Bitcoin mining is an energy-intensive enterprise, and the holy grail for mining equipment manufacturers like Bitmain is to find a chip that combines ultimate power with minimal operational costs (energy use). Bitcoin mining equipment has already come a long way since the first ASICs, but a new technology and consensus mechanism could really put the cat among the mining pigeons. Enter Optical Proof-of-Work (oPoW).
Bitcoin Mining Sees the Light
OPoW is a consensus mechanism that uses photonic chips instead of ASIC chips to solve the mathematical equations that Bitcoin mining demands. As the name suggests, photonic chips transmit light instead of electricity, which is a far less energy intensive process but with no reduction in throughput. The first generation of quantum computers have used photonic chips, which gives you an idea of their potential and the esteem in which they are already held. However, three men, Michael Dubrovsky of the nonprofit PoWx, Marshall Ball at Columbia University in New York, and Bogdan Penkovsky at the University of Paris-Saclay in France, have been attempting to point the cutting edge technology towards Bitcoin mining to see if they can successfully replace traditional computing processes with optical ones.
HeavyHash Hopes to Punch its Weight
OpoW, according to Dubrovsky through an interview with Technology Review , could lead to energy efficiency increases in the range of “two to three orders of magnitude”, which would dramatically reduce Bitcoin’s carbon footprint without sacrificing performance. Dubrovsky says that this would not just massively reduce costs for existing miners but would open up Bitcoin mining to people in any location in the world, with the necessity of cheap and plentiful electricity largely negated. Dubrovsky has already come up with a new mining algorithm, HeavyHash, which would capitalize on the photonic chips and allow early adopters to undercut the competition before they can shift their operations.
OPoW Still on the Drawing Board
This is the theory, at least. Like any new technology however there are drawbacks. For one, the power efficiency of photonic chips is yet to be properly established, so it could end up not being worth the initial outlay. For example, optical switches use tiny heaters to change their refractive index which will add to the running costs. Also, the first chips, or more importantly the computers that house them, might be unwieldy and will certainly be expensive. They may also be unreliable, as new technology often is. With quantum computing years if not decades away from mainstream use, and so much still unknown about the benefits or otherwise of optical computing, it is likely that we will also be saddled with ugly ASICS for the foreseeable future, although it is nevertheless nice to know that such exciting new technologies are being considered for little old Bitcoin.