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/1316DV4YwT— Nayib Bukele 🇸🇻 (@nayibbukele) June 9, 2021
El Salvador President Nayib Bukele has been in the news for two reasons -- his plans to tap into geothermal energy as an alternate source of power and adopting Bitcoin as legal tender.
President Bukele tweeted that he had “instructed the president of LaGeoSV to put a plan to offer facilities for Bitcoin mining energy from our volcanos” as he has legalised Bitcoin as another form of digital currency in El Salvador.
If El Salvador succeeds in this project, this could be a game-changer for crypto mining.
How Does it Work?
‘Geothermal’ comes from two Latin words; geo meaning earth, and therma meaning heat. The source of geothermal energy is the underground steam and the water found near volcanoes that gets heated to supercritical levels.
Scientists have been tapping into volcano power or geothermal energy since 2009.
Is it Same as Hot Springs?
Yes. Ancient Greeks used underground water for hot springs. Today, it is used for producing electricity. The United States is the top producer followed by New Zealand and Philippines.
Geothermal energy, like solar and wind energies, is one of the greenest energies in the world as it releases less than 97 percent sulphur and 99 percent carbon dioxide when compared to fossil fuels.
Types of Geothermal Plants
There are four types of plants currently in use across the world. Countries investing in these plants know it could last for more than 20 years.
Dry steam plant is one of oldest available plants. It lets hot water shoot up from the ground to drive a turbine and releases steam along with minor amounts of other gases.
Flash steam pumps water at a high pressure to a tank with lower pressure, resulting in the liquid vaporising and making the plant run. Any residual liquid is flashed again in another tank. This generates more power and is the most common plant found today.
Binary cycle is a plant that uses underground fluid to heat a secondary liquid turning the secondary liquid into gas, which in turn runs the plant. This could be the future as most geothermal resources are below 300 degrees Fahrenheit (148 degrees Celsius).
Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) injects water into hot underground rocks to produce steam and then the hot gas runs it. These EGS systems may help countries to use their geothermal reservoirs.
How Did it Start?
Scientists in Iceland successfully completed an experiment to harness energy directly from a volcano. In 2009, scientists attempted to drill into a reservoir of water hotter than anything termed by man, called supercritical hit magma. Plans had to be dropped when they hit magma. Underneath the magma lies the supercritical.
Refusing to give up, they believed water would seep into the reservoir through the cracks formed in the magma due to the drilling. Two years later they found the hole drilled by them had formed a reservoir of usable hot water on its own.
Scientists were able to draw water from the well at 450 degrees Celsius (842 degrees Fahrenheit). Though 450 degrees Celsius is not considered supercritical, it could produce 36 megawatts of electricity, far less than say the conventional coal-based electricity.
What started as one well in Iceland has increased. It is estimated only a fraction of Iceland’s geothermal resources has been tapped. The potential is so huge that Iceland can become the renewable power plant for Europe.
What is Bitcoin Mining?
Bitcoin mining is a method of generating new coins which computers use to solve complex mathematical formulas or puzzles. As cryptocurrencies are built on a decentralised network, the coins must be mined in order to function. The mining software takes about 10 minutes for those on the network to solve the complex programme and process a block.
Bitcoins are traded on crypto exchanges 24X7 without a break. Environmentalists and activists have been raising concerns about the adverse effects and how cryptocurrency has been using fossil fuels.
As the price of Bitcoin increases, the amount of energy consumed also goes up as more users join the network and more mining is undertaken. A University of Cambridge study has stated Bitcoins consume more than 120 terawatt hours (Twh) each year.
El Salvador and Bitcoin Mining
El Salvador is known as the “land of volcanoes” in Central America. Geothermal power contributed 21.7 percent to total electricity generation there and was the second largest source of renewable energy last year. With Bitcoin becoming legal tender now, bitcoin mining will require a lot more energy.