Why Congo’s Largest National Park Bets Big on Crypto

It’s the first! Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the hope of preserving the threatened biodiversity it has guaranteed for nearly a hundred years, has set up its own Bitcoin mining farm. Proof that the institutions of the last century are not afraid to innovate. An initiative that confuses many people. Because, at first glance, what is the relationship between cryptocurrency and environmental protection?

Crypto asset mining and sustainable development

First of all, they don’t mix well. Since cryptocurrency mining is an extremely energy-intensive practice, it is difficult to see how this industry can be, if not beneficial, at least coherent, with 17 goals Sustainable Development (SDG) defined by the United Nations. Searchers MJ Krause and T. Tolaymatestimated that during the ongoing period from January 2016 to June 2018, the mining of BTC, ETH, Litecoin and Monero tokens alone is responsible for the emission of 3 to 15 million tons of greenhouse gases ; to give you an idea, tell yourself that a country like Afghanistan emits 7.44 million tons of CO2 per year.

So how do you reconcile such an energy-hungry industry with sustainable development goals?

Today, the main solution to this dilemma is to use more renewable energies to meet the electricity needs of these computers parked on batteries and constantly computing. Even if the entire mining industry cannot be reduced to the simple fact of transforming astronomical amounts of fossil fuels into Bitcoin, especially because of the numerous mining installations that rely onhydroelectricwhether in Canada or China – or even in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose example we will detail later – it must be recognized that, from its origins, mining has been a very polluting activity. However, we should not neglect the efforts made by the players of this industry on a global scale to find solutions to this problem. Figures revealed in the last report of the Bitcoin Mining Council goes in this direction, as it indicates that in the second half of 2022, the percentage of carbon-free energies in the energy mix used for Bitcoin mining has reached 59.5%. There you can read that:

(…) the sustainable power mix of the global bitcoin mining industry is now at 59.5% or has increased by about 6% year-over-year from Q2 2021 to Q2 2022, making it one of the most sustainable industries in the world. »

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However, apart from the aspect of mass consumption of electricity, and regardless of whether it comes from fossil or renewable sources, one of the main arguments of those who oppose this industry is that, from their point of view, Bitcoin is a useless innovation. Not bringing any real added value to society, they see no point in mobilizing energy resources to maintain its operation. A rationale that refutes the project led by the oldest national park in Africa, located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and whose existence dates back to 1925.

Virunga, an eco-social mining model

In February 2020, the curator of Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, met with the founder of Big Block Green Service, a French company that designs, manufactures and distributes ecologically responsible mining farms. From their meeting will arise the project to harness the hydroelectric power produced by the flow of the rivers that meander through the park to power the computers that will mine Bitcoin. A winning projectit seems, because Big Block Green Services is buying only the excess energy produced by the hydroelectric systems of the Virunga park which previously could not find a buyer.

It should also be noted that due to the almost constant conflicts in the region between various rebel groups and the country’s authorities, not to mention the harmful effects of the Ebola virus, not even this negligible 1% of the park’s total budget is allocated. from the government, Virunga’s finances were at their worst. And at that time Covid was just beginning to declare itself. With over 40% of the park’s revenue coming from tourism, it was time to bet big; Emmanuel de Merode did.

Although Bitcoin is not, as we have seen, linked to the preservation of biodiversity – it would rather be the opposite – Emmanuel de Merode has chosen, here, to integrate it into a wider plan, which aims at the valuable hydroelectric resources and territorial of Virunga Park benefit both the local population and the proper maintenance of the park.

It was in September 2020 that Virunga’s first Bitcoin was mined. And then, admits Emmanuel de Merode:

The price of Bitcoin has increased. We were lucky – for once.

At the time, one BTC was worth about $10,000. Five months later, in March 2021, the king token was trading for around $44,000; During this month, the Virunga park earned approximately $150,000 thanks to its mine, the equivalent of what tourism brings in in the high season.

Today, the mining farm of the national park has ten containers, each of which is accommodated between them 250 and 500 cars. Three of them belong to the park, while the other seven are owned by Sébastien Gouspillou’s company.

The curator of Virunga estimates that 500,000 dollars the revenue generated by the mine during the previous year. But that’s not all. Thanks to a partnership in the NFT project CyberCongz which capitalized on the popularity of non-interchangeable primates, the park perceived 1.2 million dollars after the auction organized by Christie’s Gorilla NFT.

It doesn’t matter that Bitcoin lost 70% of its value over the past year because, in short, Emmanuel de Merode considers that:

It is an excellent investment for the park. We don’t speculate on its value, we generate it. If you buy bitcoin and its value goes down, you lose money. We are producing Bitcoins from excess energy and monetizing a resource that otherwise has no value.

Even if Bitcoin fell to 1% of its current value, Virunga Park’s mine would still be profitable. Something to think about!

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