Bitcoin (BTC) errors prepare alternatives

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Bitcoin, the most famous cryptocurrency in the world, has some shortcomings – and that, according to a Cornell University professor, has led other digital currencies to develop more workable options.

It’s not as anonymous as people think, and “mining” bitcoin is bad for the environment, stressed economics professor Eswar Prasad. It doesn’t work well as a currency either, he told CNBC on Thursday.

One interesting aspect is that other cryptocurrencies have come up with solutions to address some of Bitcoin’s shortcomings, said Prasad, who was formerly head of the China division of the International Monetary Fund.

1. Mining harms the environment

Bitcoin mining refers to the energy-intensive process required to produce new coins and ensure that the payment network is secure and verified.

The electricity used to validate transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain as well as the mining process is “certainly not good for the environment,” said Prasad.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said last month that his electric car company is no longer accepting bitcoins as payment for environmental reasons, causing the price of bitcoin to drop 5% in minutes.

He has since made a U-turn, saying in a tweet on Sunday that Tesla will accept Bitcoin in transactions if it can confirm “reasonable” and “clean energy use by miners”.

Crypto miners use specially designed computers to solve complex mathematical equations that make a coin transaction effective. The miners are rewarded for their efforts with payment in cryptocurrency.

However, the entire process of creating a bitcoin requires a lot of energy and, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, can use more electricity than entire countries like Finland and Switzerland.

On the flip side, Ethereum – the second largest cryptocurrency sometimes seen as an alternative to Bitcoin – is developing a different mining method that uses less energy, as Prasad pointed out.

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It is called “Proof of Stake” and is the underlying mechanism for Ethereum, which activates so-called “validators” in the network if they can prove that they own ether or a “stake”.

Ultimately, it should eliminate the need for massive computing power to validate transactions, and the Ethereum Foundation claims it will use 99.95% less energy than before.

“This will be a lot less energy intensive and could offer many of the benefits that Bitcoin should offer. It could also make transactions a lot cheaper and faster, ”said Prasad.

It’s not there yet, however, he added.

2. Not so anonymous after all

Earlier this month, U.S. law enforcement officials announced they had recovered $ 2.3 million in Bitcoin paid to a cyber criminal group involved in the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline in May.

The FBI said its agents were able to identify a virtual wallet that the hackers used to collect payments from the Colonial Pipeline.

“The main idea of ​​Bitcoin … was to provide pseudonymity,” said Prasad. “But it turns out that if you use Bitcoin a lot, and especially if you use Bitcoin to get real goods and services, it will eventually become possible to link your address or physical identity to your digital identity.”

What is interesting, he said, is that there are other cryptocurrencies trying to fix this and provide more anonymity. He named Monero and Zcash as examples.

Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg via Getty Images

“So Bitcoin has really started a search for a better alternative and people seem to be looking for a medium of exchange that doesn’t have to go through a trustworthy institution like the government or a commercial bank – but that’s not quite there yet “said Prasad.

3. Doesn’t work well as a currency

In theory, Bitcoin should provide an anonymous and efficient medium of exchange, but “it didn’t work in that regard,” said the economics professor.

Rather, it is “slow and awkward” to use Bitcoin to pay for goods and services, and the market is very volatile, Prasad said.

Bitcoin is prone to large fluctuations in volatility, as evidenced by the 30% decline in a single day over the past month.

“So you could take a bitcoin to a store and get a cup of coffee one day and a lavish meal with the same bitcoin the other day. So that doesn’t work well for the medium of exchange, “he said.

Bitcoin has become a speculative asset for people who hope it will increase in value instead of using it as a means of payment, Prasad said.

– CNBC’s Sam Shead contributed to this report.