Unused renewable energy an option for powering NFT trade

A new revelation might reshape the trajectory of renewable energy deployment: Cornell Engineering researchers have unearthed a prospect within the United States’ surplus green power. This potential, harboured in underused solar, wind, and hydroelectric reserves, stands on the brink of catalyzing an unprecedented surge in non-fungible token (NFT) transactions.

The study “Climate Concerns and the Future of Non-Fungible Tokens: Leveraging Environmental Benefits of the Ethereum Merge,” authored by Fengqi You and Apoorv Lal, spotlights a visionary concept.

This approach bears a striking resemblance to the practice of carsharing, where an underutilized vehicle finds purpose through temporary lending.

“It’s the same idea as a car sitting in someone’s garage,” You said. “If it’s not being driven, they could lend it to someone for carsharing. In our case, wind, solar and hydro power sources that aren’t being utilized could be used to do something good.”

“Of course, this would be up to the industry and policymakers,” he said, “but technology-wise, we show it’s very feasible because these power sources are there already.”

The researchers advocate for the mobilization of fifty megawatts of untapped hydropower from dormant U.S. dams, complemented by a 15% harnessing of dormant wind and solar energy in Texas, to fuel a monumental upswing in NFT transactions.

Threatening emissions from NFT transaction

Despite a laudable transition to a more energy-efficient algorithm, the recent surge in NFT activity looms large, threatening to erode any accrued savings. The researchers caution that, without intervention, annual emissions from NFT transactions could equate to a staggering 1 million single-trip flights from New York to London. The carbon footprint generated by NFT transactions may mirror that of a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant over a year. This underscores the urgency of embracing sustainable alternatives.

Photo by Raphael Wild on Unsplash
Photo by Raphael Wild on Unsplash

September 2022 witnessed a watershed moment for the Ethereum blockchain’s journey towards sustainability. It pivoted from the energy-intensive proof of work (PoW) algorithm to the streamlined proof of stake (PoS) consensus mechanism, known as the Ethereum Merge. This transition resulted in a notable reduction in energy consumption. Yet, the authors issue a sobering note of caution, highlighting that the mounting number of validators in the network could still translate to energy consumption equivalent to that of 100,000 U.S. households by the decade’s end.

Undeniable gains

While retrofitting existing power sources may present challenges, the gains for both energy carriers and the environment are undeniable. The study scrutinized two promising hydroelectric energy carriers, green hydrogen and the even more energy-dense green ammonia, evaluating their feasibility. Factors such as transportation distances and the utilization levels of available renewable energy sources significantly influence cost savings.

This initiative holds promise for the digital art market and sets a precedent for unlocking latent resources in the battle against climate change. The NFT sector is a potential contributor to substantial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, necessitating immediate measures to curb its climate footprint. Proposals centred on technological advancements and policy reinforcement are key to fostering environmentally responsible growth within the burgeoning blockchain industry.

Andrea Nyilas is a Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainability Consultant and a Sustainability and Environmental journalist. She holds a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy from Central European University, in addition to a Master of Arts degree in Economics from the Corvinus University of Budapest. She is particularly interested in circular economy, natural resource management, and waste reduction.