Chia, a newcomer into the cryptocurrency market, has tried to differentiate itself from Bitcoin by flaunting its green credentials. But what exactly is Chia and what are the ramifications of its launch?
In a business paper published on Chia’s own website, its authors Edward Burns, Jeff Janukowicz, John Rydning and James Wester, make some bold statements about Chia’s environmental impact.
“Undoubtedly, a “greener” cryptocurrency platform such as Chia compared with all other proof-of-work cryptocurrency platforms makes Chia compelling and will give it a good chance to compete and succeed long term in a crowded cryptocurrency market,” the paper claims.
But is this statement true? To determine this we need to look at two main things. The energy usage for mining the coin, as well as the components required to use it.
In pure electricity terms, Chia is considerably more eco-friendly, since it uses roughly 104 times less electricity when comparing its overall network with that of Bitcoin.
Similarly, while the entire Ethereum network consumes roughly one-third of Bitcoin’s total electricity consumption, at the time of writing, it still consumes a similar amount of electricity as the whole of Singapore, while at the same time creating a carbon footprint comparable to that of the entire country of Jordan.
However, that doesn’t tell the full story. Since the Chia network is still in its nascent stages and has not seen the vast, worldwide adoption of bitcoin and Ethereum, comparing total electricity figures is somewhat misleading.
For a more accurate estimate, we need to look at how much it wears on the computers used to mine coins. This process is called ‘plotting’ when it comes to Chia. “Plotting is the process of creating plot files that are later harvested as part of the Chia farming process,” Chia Explorer explains.
“Chia plotting is heavy on electricity, too—plotting requires arbitrary calculations by a computing device’s central processing unit (CPU), an intensive task,” David Gerard noted in an article for Foreign Policy.
“Chia’s business white paper anticipates farming on “one Raspberry Pi” (a small computer about as powerful as a 2007 iPhone)—but in practice, chia plotting requires multiple CPU threads running continuously at close to 100 percent,” Gerard added.
Moreover, the true environmental damage that Chia creates is less so in pure electricity terms as it is in terms of metals and precious minerals.
Due to Chia’s use of hard disc space for its plotting process, there has been an insatiable demand for hard drives, creating shortages and driving their prices up. This phenomenon mirrors the effect that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have had on the graphics card market, where top-tier graphics cards became scarce and thus rose in price.
However, things get even worse when you see how these hard drives are being used to create the Chia coins.
Chinese website My Drivers has reported that the Chia plotting process can permanently destroy a 512 gigabyte SSD (solid state drive) drive in just 40 days.
The insanely rapid pace at which hard drives are being made unusable has even caused manufacturers to void hard drive warranties for people who have used them for Chia mining.
“Instead of carbon dioxide, Chia produces vast quantities of e-waste—rare metals, assembled into expensive computing components, turned into toxic near-unrecyclable landfill within weeks,” wrote David Gerard in the aforementioned article.
Cohen has denied the effect of Chia on hard drives before then shifting the blame to miners who use regular SSDs available to the average consumer. However, this contradicts Chia’s own statements that Chia plotting can be run on regular laptops and smartphones.