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How Much Bitcoin is Left?
Since there is a limited supply of Bitcoin and a proportion of that is currently in circulation, many want to know how much of the alternative currency is still waiting to be released, often in an effort to decide if it's worth getting into the mining game.
In this article we'll discuss everything there is to know about the supply of Bitcoin, including its cap, how Bitcoin is released into circulation, how many coins are currently out there, what factors influence the supply and what happens when BTC has been completely mined.
Bitcoin Total Supply
Bitcoin was first unleashed upon the world as the very first cryptocurrency by an unknown individual or group called Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. The alternative coin was created with a limited total supply of 21 million coins - that's all that was created and no more will ever be added.
The reason for the limited supply is to ensure the coin holds its value. If something is scarce, whether that's naturally or artificially, ie. through limiting supply, it tends to be worth more than if it's abundant.
How Bitcoins Are Released Into Circulation
Bitcoins are released into general circulation by a process called mining. Bitcoin miners can be individuals, companies or pools, but they must have sufficient computing power in order to discover the unique hash of the next new Bitcoin block. Whoever manages to successfully find the hash of the latest Bitcoin block is entitled to claim both that block's transaction fees and a reward consisting of 6.25 (at present) newly 'minted' BTC.
The Bitcoin mining process takes time. On average it takes about 10 minutes for the hash of one block to be 'found'. Because the discovery of each block's hash requires brute force, ie. guesses, a lot of computing power is needed to make the average of 122 sextillions (1021) attempts in order to find the right hash. This results in an extremely high level of energy consumption, leading to criticism regarding the environmental impacts of mining.
Current Circulating Supply of Bitcoin
Of the 21 million coins total supply, approximately19 a million coins have already been mined and released into the world. That's about 91% of the total supply. Of course, since new blocks are released and added to the blockchain every 10 minutes or so, this number continues to increase on a daily basis. The current average production rate of about 144 blocks per day results in a new BTC daily release rate of about 900 BTC.
Influences on Bitcoin Circulating Supply
The 19 million or so Bitcoins that have been released aren't all currently circulating for a variety of reasons. In fact, there are several factors that influence how much Bitcoin is in circulation, whether that's by deliberate control, purely by accident or with malicious intent.
The circulating supply of Bitcoin is most obviously influenced on an ongoing basis by Bitcoin mining. As miners continue to correctly guess the hashes of newly created blocks, new Bitcoins are released into circulation. Because of the nature of the mining process, ie. the fact that there is a reward incentive for doing so, the time it takes for one block to be created and verified in the blockchain and new BTC to be released is almost always around 10 minutes.
However, due to the increased computing power of the growing pool of miners, both individual and group, in recent times, blocks have been created slightly faster than 10 minutes, at about 9 and a half minutes, which means a slightly increased rate of release of Bitcoin.
Built into the entire Bitcoin system is a concept known as halving. Today, the reward for creating and verifying a new block in the blockchain (ie. discovering its hash) is 6.25 BTC plus the transaction fees for that block's constituent BTC transactions. However, it hasn't always been 6.25 BTC.
When Bitcoin was first released, the block reward was 50 BTC, which today would be worth a staggering $1.5 million! Every time 210,000 blocks have been successfully verified and added to the blockchain, the block reward is halved. It generally takes around 4 years for 210,000 blocks to be added to the blockchain, so every 4 years or so, miners see their BTC rewards half.
The first halving took place in November 2012, which brought the block reward down to 25 BTC. The second halving was in July 2016, when 420,000 blocks had been reached, with the block reward halving again to 12.5 BTC. May 2020 was the latest BTC halving, which reduced the reward to its current value of 6.25 BTC per block.
The point of halving is to help the coin maintain and ideally increase its value over time. As the block reward decreases, it becomes increasingly expensive to mine, which in turn leads to fewer BTC being released, resulting in an increase in their value. Though there have only been three halvings to date, each one was followed by an increase in market value, suggesting that this trend will continue.
Though it's a little more difficult to put any kind of solid figure on this one, the amount of BTC that is lost for a variety of reasons also affects the circulating supply. Bitcoin can be lost for numerous reasons, most notably, and unfortunately, is by BTC wallet holders forgetting or losing their private key. Since there is no way for the private key of Bitcoin account wallets to be retrieved, not even by the platforms themselves, this ultimately means Bitcoin has become locked in inaccessible accounts. An estimate back in 2018 suggested as many as 3 to 4 million BTC have been lost in this way.
Another way that Bitcoin can become lost is through the unscrupulous activities of hackers. Many people choose to keep their Bitcoin on the exchange at which they bought it, but as the unfortunate customers of Mt. Gox found in 2014, a hacking attack resulted in the loss of around 840,000 BTC from both customer accounts and the company itself, with the coins at the time valued at approximately $460 million. Although the coins weren't technically lost and are probably still in circulation, it does represent a massive movement of the cryptocurrency.
When Will All Bitcoins Have Been Mined?
Since we're currently looking at a current circulating supply of around 19 million BTC out of a total of 21 million coins, it would be easy to assume that the rest will be mined quickly too, especially when you consider that the crypto was only launched in 2009, just over a decade ago.
However, halving ensures that the time it takes for the remaining unmined supply of Bitcoin when halved to be released is almost exponential. It would indeed be very much exponential and thus never-ending if the halving process were to continue indefinitely, as halving will never result in reaching zero. That is why the creators determined in the rules that the block reward will be rounded down to zero in approximately 2140.
At this point, it is expected that virtually all of the 21 million BTC will have been mined, though the costs of mining those final few coins are predicted to be prohibitively expensive for most.
Of course, this is only an estimate. There is a lot of time between now and 2140 and a lot can happen in such a timeframe.
What Happens When All Bitcoins Have Been Mined?
When all 21 million BTC have been mined into circulation, the value of the coin is expected to increase markedly based on the sole principle of scarcity. Of course, by that time, there will no doubt be much fewer than 21 million coins in the supply due to losses and hacks, which will increase the coin's scarcity and push its value up further. It's important to note, however, that this is just speculation.
Since the blockchain on which the cryptocurrency is based will need to continue in its current role as a public ledger of transactions, many wonder what would be the incentive to continue mining if there are no more BTC rewards. While it's true that miners will not be rewarded with new BTC for creating and verifying new blocks in the chain, they will still get the transaction fees associated with that block, so there will still be a decent incentive to carry on mining, which is critical to keeping the cryptocurrency flowing.
With just over 19 million of the total supply of 21 million coins currently in circulation, Bitcoin's unmined coin total stands at just under 2 million. These remaining coins are expected to be fully mined by 2140, at which point the entire supply of spending Bitcoin, minus losses, will be circulating around the world.
That's a long time in the future, so who knows what changes may influence this trajectory between now and then.
Want to know more about how much Bitcoin is left? Check our FAQs.
How many Bitcoins are left to be mined?
At present, a total of just over 1,900,000 coins are still waiting to be mined into circulation.
How many Bitcoins have already been mined?
Of the 21 million total supply, just over 19 million BTC have already been mined.
What can you do with Bitcoin?
Right now, only a very few major online retailers accept BTC payments. However, online casinos that accept cryptocurrencies are exploding in popularity. At these sites, members can use their Bitcoin wallets to deposit and play a wide range of slots, table games and live dealer games from leading developers for the chance to win more.
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