Traditionally, the mining industry has been vilified for its environmental impact and energy use. This article describes the industry where mining can have an immediate positive impact – fossil fuel operations.
The run-up to November 2023 COP28 in Dubai has seen a flurry of activity from the world’s three largest economies on the question of energy sector methane. That month, China published its long-awaited Methane Emissions Control Action Plan, followed by the China-US Sunnylands Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Address the Climate Crisis and the European Council and Parliament announcing a deal on new rules to cut methane emissions in the energy sector. Prolific emitters, like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, added themselves to the 150 signatories of the Global Methane Pledge.
The momentum continued, with 50 oil and gas companies that represent 40% of global petroleum production signing the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter and committing to end methane emissions and routine gas flaring by 2030.
Finally, the world is waking up to the fact that if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2050, we must act decisively to stop the venting and flaring of methane from the global oil, gas, and coal industries.
But amongst the excitement, it is forgotten that reducing the flaring and venting of methane necessarily involves capturing and utilizing it. A question no one seems to be asking is what to do with all this methane.
The Bad And The Ugly Of Fossil Fuel Methane
The atmospheric methane emissions have tripled since the start of the industrial revolution, believed to be responsible for 0.5 degrees of the 1 degree warming we saw to date. The International Panel on Climate Change states that if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2050, we must act decisively on methane.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Methane Tracker estimates that one-third of man-made methane emissions comes from the production, transportation, and use of fossil fuels. This totals around 120 million tonnes of methane annually, evenly split between the oil, gas, and coal industries. The impact is equivalent to 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide – more than the United States’ and EU’s CO2 emissions combined.
The IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 roadmap states that in order to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, the energy sector must reduce its methane emissions by 75% by 2030, predominantly through the “the rapid deployment of measures and technologies to eliminate avoidable methane emissions by 2030.”
The Methane Tracker shows that 75% of global fossil fuel methane emissions come from 10 regions:
The Potential Role Of Bitcoin Mining In Greenhouse Gas Reduction
In September 2022, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy published a report on Climate and Energy Implications of Crypto-Assets in the United States. One of the report’s conclusions was that “crypto-asset mining operations that capture vented methane to produce electricity can yield positive results for the climate, by converting the potent methane to CO2 during combustion…; could potentially be more reliable and more efficient at converting methane to CO2 [than flaring]… and …is more likely to help rather than hinder U.S. climate objectives.”
The IPCC estimates that over 20 years, a tonne of methane has a climate change impact equivalent to 80 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Hiveon, a top-rated suite of mining products, calculates that using otherwise vented methane to generate the electricity needed to produce one Bitcoin would lead to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 6’000 tonnes of CO2, or the annual emissions of 1,400 passenger cars in the US.
“We acknowledge the crypto industry’s carbon emissions, but also believe in its ability to act as an important tool in combatting climate change. That’s why we launched Hiveon Energy, a project in the intersection of the blockchain field and traditional energy industries. It’s our contribution to making mining more sustainable while also helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” – Andrii Garanin, VP of Hiveon Energy.
Just 1MW of Bitcoin mining equipment could destroy over 800 tonnes of methane annually, providing greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to a typical 140 MW solar facility in the US. With just the global Bitcoin industry requiring 10-15 GW of power generation capacity, it has huge potential to reduce methane emissions.
The IEA estimates that it’s possible to capture and use 75% of the methane vented from oil and gas production and about 50% from coal. Methane is a valuable commodity, but there is a reason why so much of it is vented rather than sold or utilized.
This is because the majority of vented energy sector methane is almost by definition stranded gas. Fossil fuel operators are profit-driven, so if they had a way to monetize the wasted methane, they would have used it.
Vented methane comes from regions like Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, the Middle East, Caspian, etc. These regions are already massive producers of fossil fuels, so they have few customers for natural gas. It needs to be transported to customers as LNG, through pipelines, or as electricity, which involves extensive investments in infrastructure, as well as substantial legal, regulatory, and commercial barriers.
These investments have long payback periods, making them challenging in the current context where the world needs to rapidly ramp down its production of fossil fuels.
The mining industry can act as a global buyer of stranded natural gas. Miners require no access to the grid or power markets – just the gas supply, a plot of land, and an internet connection.
Most importantly, because such projects can use modular, mobile solutions, the equipment can be moved easily and cheaply in case of localized issues around gas supply or power demand.
Undeniably, the global crypto industry is a large consumer of electricity, part of which comes from the burning of fossil fuels. But it’s also a major potential customer for otherwise vented methane, providing an enormous opportunity to reduce methane emissions globally.
The major barrier is a lack of knowledge from global policymakers and the mining industry about the workings of such an enterprise. Despite the challenges, we need policies that will promote the use of vented gas, or at least not hinder it by regulations such as blanket bans on mining.
As stated by Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, “The world will break down if we don’t fix the energies we use today. The world will break down if we don’t mitigate the emissions on a gigaton scale.”
This is a guest post by Andrii Garanin. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.