Volcanoes are great for inspiring science fair projects, instilling dread in people who live next to them, and incinerating unlucky participants in ancient rituals. We might be able to add another item to that list soon because El Salvador President Nayib Bukele said yesterday that he’s planning to use volcanic energy to mine Bitcoin. This latest effort builds on the country's fascination with Bitcoin: Earlier this week, El Salvador became the first country in the world to consider the cryptocurrency legal tender.
I’ve just instructed the president of @LaGeoSV (our state-owned geothermal electric company), to put up a plan to offer facilities for #Bitcoin mining with very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy from our volcanos 🌋 This is going to evolve fast! 🇸🇻 pic.twitter.com/1316DV4YwTJune 9, 2021
Bukele said in a follow-up tweet that LaGeo’s engineers dug a new well on Wednesday capable of providing “approximately 95MW of 100% clean, 0 emissions geothermal energy” from El Salvador’s volcanoes. He also re-affirmed that the plan was for LaGeo to design a full Bitcoin mining hub around this new well.
The announcement follows increasing concerns about the global impact of Bitcoin mining operations. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with mining cryptocurrency from an environmental perspective, but it is an energy-intensive process, and that can be a problem if the energy is derived from non-sustainable sources.
If the energy derived from this volcanic well truly is emissions-free, the planned Bitcoin mining operation could avoid some of those criticisms. Even if it’s not, well, it’s still hard to deny that using a volcano to mine cryptocurrency makes recent efforts to set up Bitcoin mining rigs in abandoned power plants seem quaint.
Bukele appears to be going all-in on Bitcoin. Earlier this week, El Salvador became the first country in the world to consider the cryptocurrency legal tender because his proposal was approved by 62 of the country’s 84 members of Congress. He also said El Salvador would offer citizenship to anyone who owns more than 3 bitcoin.
Those changes won’t be without controversy. Bukele is supposed to meet with the International Monetary Fund today, for example, to address concerns about how the adoption of Bitcoin as an official currency will affect El Salvador’s relationship with the financial institution. Businesses will also have to figure out how to process transactions involving the cryptocurrency; refusing to accept it would be illegal.
Bukele also hasn’t provided specific information about when the Bitcoin mining operation will be more than just a proposal in a tweet or how the coins generated by the operation would be managed. It’s entirely possible the plan will be scrapped in favor of using the volcanic energy provided by the well more traditionally. But at least for now, crypto enthusiasts can revel in the idea of lava-powered mining.