Greenhouse fuelled by bitcoin mining

More than 30 computers sit on the second floor of a former car museum west of Winnipeg (Canada), quietly working to mine bitcoin. 

The heat generated by those computers, which are verifying bitcoin transactions by solving cryptographic puzzles, helps warm nearby plants in a makeshift greenhouse.

To water the trays filled with lettuce, basil and sprouted barley fodder, Bruce Hardy, the owner of this 20,000-square-foot building in the Rural Municipality of St. Francois Xavier, clicks a button.

A pump waters the plants with waste water from tanks located on the first floor in which around 800 Arctic Char swim and breed. The waste water from the tanks is rich in nitrates, a great fertilizer for the plants upstairs.

It's a complex operation but that's the beauty of it, according to the owner.

"It's all connected, much like Earth," said Hardy, president of Myera Group.

His company's goal is to use technology to create sustainable food systems.

Hardy runs his own software company and has been in the bitcoin mining business for two years. He used to pay for air conditioning to cool off the computers, but quickly realized there was a better use for the heat.

​"When bitcoin came, they were an excellent proxy for what a server could do in terms of emulating heat, and whether we could use that heat for agricultural purposes," he said.

About a year ago, he opened his operation in the old Tin Lizzie Auto Museum and the former Grey Nuns convent located on Highway 26 just west of Winnipeg​

"From what we've seen so far, it looks like a popular move for the community," says Dwayne Clark, the Reeve of the RM of St. Francois Xavier. "It's already cleaned up what used to be an eyesore for a number of years."

The company is still experimenting with using the heat from bitcoin mining in different ways. Right now, about one-quarter of the second floor is filled with computers and plants, but Hardy hopes to eventually fill the space.

Starting the operation would have been a lot more difficult without the bitcoin cash, said Hardy. The price of a bitcoin is hovering around $19,000 Cdn.  

"The revenue from those bitcoins has helped me to keep staff on, it's helped me create these displays so we can show people what we're doing in agriculture innovation," said Hardy.

Hardy hopes his operation becomes a place where people can research and develop sustainable food systems while programmers work with bitcoin technology. 

Australian researchers and Chinese investors have expressed interest in his operation, he said.

Manitoba is prime location for electricity-intensive operations like this, said Hardy.

"Hydro is one of our best assets in the province," said Hardy.

Manitoba has the cheapest commercial hydro electricity rates in the country and among the lowest temperatures of major North American cities, making it attractive to bitcoin miners. 

"If we can take our energy and use it here in Manitoba, we value-add that energy, and we can do all sorts of great things," he said.

Click here to watch a related video.

Photo credit: Lyzaville Sale/CBC News

01/08/2018 - CBC/Radio-Canada

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