The MareNostrum 4 supercomputer in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: BSC
The world of cryptocurrency is changing very quickly. But it is not easy to develop technology while avoiding increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
To say the least, cryptocurrency production is not environmentally friendly. Bitcoin mining – one of the most popular blockchain applications – consumes about 110 TWh per year, more than the annual consumption of countries like Sweden or Argentina.
Tesla won’t accept that CEO Elon Musk said cryptocurrency energy consumption was “crazy” More bitcoins As a means of payment due to climate change concerns — at least, until cryptocurrency mining gets greener. Curiously, El Salvador recently announced that it will start using energy derived from volcanoes to mine Bitcoin.
Run simulations to study how transactions speed up on the blockchain
However, there are ways to counter the quandary of blockchain power consumption with increased scalability – ie doubling the number of possible transactions per second without creating bottlenecks, or losing reliability.
This change is critical, according to Leonardo Bautista, Principal Investigator at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), because “central systems used by VISA or Mastercard can handle 50,000 transactions per second, while Ethereum can handle 15-20 Transaction per second. Second and Bitcoin from 7 to 10.”
Bautista has been working with the Ethereum Foundation since 2018 to solve blockchain challenges, using the BSC’s Marenostrum supercomputer.
The project involves running simulations to study how to increase the speed of transactions on the blockchain using various technologies, such as hashing.
Sharing: Dividing the blockchain network into smaller pieces that work in parallel to increase transaction throughput
Sharing involves dividing the blockchain network into smaller sections, called fragments, that work in parallel to increase transaction throughput. In other words, it amounts to distributing the workload on the network to allow more transactions to be processed, a technology similar to that used in supercomputers.
In the world of high-performance computing, methods for computing balancing have been developed over decades to increase scalability. At this point the lessons from the supercomputer are useful.
“A blockchain like Ethereum is something like a global state machine, or in a less technical sense, a global computer. This global computer has been running for more than five years on a single core, more precisely on a single chain,” Bautista explains. “The Ethereum community’s efforts are focused on transforming this global computer into a multi-core computer, more specifically a multi-threaded computer. The goal is to effectively parallelize computing in multiple computing cores called “segments” – hence the name of this technology.”
Searching for a new standard
The Bautista team also created the Kumo Crawler, a bot that scours the Ethereum P2P network to detect problems and malicious behavior. This will contribute to the implementation of Ethereum 2.0, a highly anticipated network upgrade that is expected to increase network scalability by more than 1,000 times while reducing its power consumption by up to 500 times.
Expected to arrive in 2022, it can solve a major network mystery without sacrificing security or decentralization. “Currently there is a battle for a new standard for creating and validating blocks on the blockchain, and it seems that Ethereum is taking over,” explains Marc Rocas, former president of the Catalan Blockchain Association.
Ethereum plans to use the Proof of Stake (PoS) consensus mechanism, along with hashing and chain beacons — the coordination mechanism that keeps fragments in sync with each other — to make the network “more secure, more scalable and more sustainable.”
Proof of work or POS to validate transactions?
In fact, one of the most persistent problems in the public blockchain has to do with consensus mechanisms designed to validate transactions and ensure that no one is trying to modify the blocks.
The well-established model for doing this is Proof of Work (PoW). In order to add a block to the chain, Ethereum or Bitcoin miners have to solve a complex puzzle that requires huge processing power. Only when the problem is resolved does the network verify the legitimacy of the transaction.
However, this process is very slow. The network takes about 10 minutes to confirm each transaction. At the same time, the cost of executing transactions increases with an increase in their number. On the Ethereum network, the computational effort required to complete transactions is called “Gas,” and the cost is determined by miners based on supply and demand on the network.
Other consensus mechanisms have been created to overcome the hurdles of the Proof of Work method, one of the most famous being the Proof of Stake (PoS) model.
While PoW requires miners to solve a problem using raw processing power, PoS requires miners to share a certain amount of cryptocurrency on the network. Then the algorithm chooses the block generator based on the user’s share; The higher the bet, the higher the chances of checking the next block and getting a bonus.
If the network detects malicious behavior, the user loses his quota and the right to participate in the network in the future. This is a financial incentive not to do the bad manipulation.
Ethereum wants to use PoS because the method is supposed to be greener and cheaper, yet it is far from perfect. “Proof of work often gets a bad reputation because it uses a lot of electricity, but it’s very reliable,” says Rokas. Plus, what’s the problem if the power used is clean? “On the other hand, the problem some people have when discussing proof of stake is that it can lead to more inequality, because the more coins you can buy, the more pieces you can get in play.”
Energy efficiency is another challenge shared by supercomputers and blockchain. The Marenostrum supercomputer installed in the BSC uses 1.3 MW/year. Fugaku, the world’s fastest supercomputer, uses about 30-40 megawatts.
Scientists have attempted to solve this problem using a number of techniques, such as the BSC-backed MontBlanc project, which explored the concept of building supercomputers based on mobile processors. The Ethereum community anticipates that after the full deployment of Ethereum 2.0, the network will likely be able to run on smartphones or “lightweight” devices such as the Raspberry Pi.
However, using the power of a supercomputer to improve blockchain power consumption seems like a contradiction, but Bautista says the metrics are not comparable. “Once the simulations are done with a supercomputing machine, the benefits are guaranteed in the long run,” he says.