Sustainability Of A Blockchain(XCIX)

in blockchain •  last month  (edited)

In a preceding article we asked: Is there a blockchain for social good? In this sequel we dive deeper and explore it further. It’s a no brainer that a blockchain that enables a sustainable use case should itself be sustainable.

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Image Source: Pixabay

Let’s define sustainability one more time.


It is simply meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Enemies Of Sustainability


The world we live in has plenty of enemies of sustainability. But here we are discussing blockchain.


If a blockchain is not sustainable, it at least shouldn’t be an enemy of sustainability.

A peer reviewed study published last year looked at different bitcoin mining hardware and calculated the average electricity consumed at 300 kWh per transaction, and estimated to exceed 900 kWh per transaction by the end of 2018. de Vries who authored the post believes the network could someday consume 5% of the world’s electricity. Projecting that analysis to the second dirtiest blockchain, which consumes about one third of bitcoin’s consumption, the estimate for Ethereum could be as high as 1.65% of world’s total electricity consumption in years to come. That’s humongous, and certainly an enemy of sustainability.

Depending on which country ethereum miners are located, which is mostly in China, the carbon emission is 1 kg / kWh, each Ethereum transaction consumes 27 kWh of electricity. It means each transaction can pump in as much as 27 kg of CO2. Its like burning three gallons of gasoline that can take an average car from Portland, Maine to Boston, Massachusetts. That again is humongous by any standards, and certainly qualifies as an enemy of sustainability. Yet, most “blockchain for social good” challenges have judged Ethereum based startups as winners.


What a paradox! An enemy of sustainability deployed to support sustainability.

So what should a sustainable blockchain look like?

Sustainable Blockchain: Framing The Criteria


It’s a no brainer that a blockchain that enables a sustainable use case should itself be sustainable. But that’s not what we saw in our search for blockchains for social good. If the leader of the pack, Ethereum, is not sustainable, what about the other blockchains out there. Lets formulate a criteria for qualifying a blockchain as sustainable.

Following are the three bare minimum requirements that a blockchain should pass for being considered as sustainable.

  1. Almost zero carbon footprint;
  2. Transaction cost very low or close to zero;
  3. Publicly transparent.

Although the above three requirements can serve the “social good” reasonably well, but if a blockchain can overcome the following, it may serve it even better:

  1. Eliminating the human tendency to centralize blockchain by means of pooling, syndication, cartelization;
  2. Capabilities to handle big data that AI generates;
  3. Matching telecommunication network speeds.

Blockchains That Meet Sustainability Criteria


Now that we formulated a set of qualifying requirements for determining sustainability of a blockchain, it is important to identify and discuss some of the potential candidates. There may be many of them, but the following are worth mentioning.

  1. Steem: It is not only a blockchain that meets all the three sustainability criteria but one of the most robust and mature ones; and the only one with over three years of blockchain’s first tangible real-world use case, a decentralized social content platform. With over 1.3 million users and about a million daily transactions that [utilize only 0.08% of its capacity,](https://blocktivity.info/) it’s one of the most efficient blockchains.
  2. EOS: Clocking over 50 million transaction per day, EOS by far is the most active blockchain. It is is [66,000 times more energy efficient than Bitcoin.](https://www.genereos.io/index.php/2018/10/26/eosenergyconsumption/)
  3. Energy Web Chain: [Recently introduced by Energy Web Foundation](https://www.energyweb.org/2019/06/19/energy-web-foundation-launches-worlds-first-public-open-source-enterprise-grade-blockchain-tailored-to-the-energy-sector/#jump-blockchain) EW Chain is perhaps the only blockchain that is custom built for energy sector. It enables customer-owned devices like batteries or air conditioning units to balance the grid (and be paid for doing so), and simplifies the way electric vehicles are charged.

Technology Readiness Levels For Sustainability Tech


Originally designed by NASA, Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) are formal metrics that are designed to measure progress of a technology towards maturity. The assessment of TRL depends on the specific use cases and required threshold for the performance and cost of the technology.

Establishment of the right metrics to measure the TRL for any solution is important from performance and cost perspective. If the end goal is sustainability or social good, then the identification of key sustainability-related metrics becomes increasingly relevant as presented in the following reference:

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Sustainability Integration In A Technology Readiness Assessment Framework. 21st International Conference On Engineering Design, ICED1721–25 August, 2017

Measuring the maturity of a sustainable blockchain, it seems Steem is the only blockchain that passes TRL-9, meaning fully mature sustainable blockchain.

Considering its carbon footprint, Ethereum would not qualify to enter the TRL scale for sustainable solutions. Forget sustainability for a moment, Ethereum cannot even get past TRL 7/8 for just about any application on cost, speed, efficiency and scalability grounds.

Conclusion


A sustainable blockchain use case cannot be sustainable unless the blockchain itself is sustainable.

Zero carbon footprint, very low or zero transaction costs and public transparency are the fundamental qualifiers for a sustainable blockchain. While there are a few promising blockchains, Steem is the only sustainable blockchain that has passed a full TRL9 maturity. But, unfortunately, most current “social good” use cases piggy back on the most unsustainable blockchain. If a blockchain is not sustainable, it at least shouldn’t be an enemy of sustainability.

The article is simultaneously published on Medium

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