Mark Morton from Scilling Digital Mining, based in Ireland, has had to navigate his way through the Irish/European energy market to create a custom containerized Bitcoin ASIC mining solution for renewable energy producers, including farmers operating Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants. AD plants have been an especially compelling use case due to their simple economics and 100% uptime. These farmers can sell their energy to the grid but often have stranded energy that they are not able to use. Bitcoin mining offers a way to monetize this excess energy. Once Mark also gets his containers fitted to both wind and solar farms, then Europe would have concrete proofs-of-concept that demonstrate how bitcoin mining is both feasible and practical for the European market. European energy grids have not been able to adapt as needed to make the most of renewables and Mark’s team offers a solution to capitalize on stranded energy and build energy independence in Europe.
The symbioses being discovered and applied between the energy industry and Bitcoin mining is an undeniable and accelerating trend. The value proposition is simple: energy that is often wasted, known as “stranded energy”, is monetized on-site given the inherent benefits of mining Bitcoin. The result; an additional income stream for energy producers with zero additional emissions, ultimately generating revenue from what is effectively free energy.
Outside the US, monetizing stranded energy “à la Bitcoin” hasn’t caught on quite as quickly. That is, not until Mark Morton and his team at Scilling Digital Mining entered the scene. Based in Ireland, Mark has been fostering a vision for how the European renewable energy market can benefit from Bitcoin mining. Indeed, Europe is currently facing significant challenges to maintain their energy independence, an issue Mark is well aware of as both a challenge and an opportunity.
Asic Magazine recently had the opportunity to catch up with Mark to learn from his experiences at Scilling Digital Mining. This article will cover the key findings of our discussion, highlighting Mark’s journey, the intricacies of Ireland’s energy market, generating biogas from anaerobic digestion, the PowerVault68, and the role Scilling Digital Mining played in creating the world’s first biogas powered Bitcoin mine. For anyone interested in the latest in energy startup innovation, this article is for you.
Mark’s path to Bitcoin mining
Mark mentioned that he first caught wind of Bitcoin and crypto back when he was a student of finance and actuarial studies in college. He also added that he was lucky to be surrounded by a stimulating collegiate community where he was first introduced to the concept of market cycles. This peaked his curiosity, and gave him the conviction to start dabbling in crypto in 2019. Over time, he couldn’t help but notice that Bitcoin acts as the determining factor for the overall crypto market cycle. Looking at the fundamentals, he made the decision that he would focus his time on Bitcoin and explore opportunities in the space.
Mark soon gathered a team with a focus on mining, but their plans were met by a significant contraint. This wasn’t Texas or another energy-abundant location. Ireland’s electricity is relatively expensive, and there weren’t any relevant examples of successful Bitcoin miners in Europe. However, upon researching Ireland’s renewable energy market, they discovered the opportunity that lies in the sheer volume of stranded energy in Ireland.
A history of mining Bitcoin from stranded energy
To date, this use-case for Bitcoin mining has most commonly been applied to monetize the energy potential of the associated gases released from conventional oil and gas extraction facilities. These gases have typically been “flared” (wasted) before the influx of Bitcoin mining. This practice has seen the most adoption in the United States thus far.
Bitcoin mining as a catalyst for renewable energy startups
A key implication of Bitcoin mining is that energy producers can have access to a highly liquid additional revenue stream for keeping their businesses afloat. For small-scale startups, this kind of bootstrapping can make the difference for weathering the early years.
For young renewable energy producers, the pain can be felt more acutely. Wind and solar energy are intermittent in nature, making it challenging to match supply and demand. The grid is often unable to absorb all the energy produced during peak production periods.
Battery technology has yet to catch up, making it difficult to store excess energy for later use.
Building a model for Ireland and Europe
For Scilling Digital Mining, the ongoing energy crisis in Europe only highlights the need for innovative solutions to reduce dependence on the grid. Mark sees Bitcoin mining as a way to help people achieve energy independence by generating revenue from renewable sources of energy. While building one of Europe’s first renewable energy Bitcoin mines in Ireland was a significant accomplishment, Scilling Digital Mining sees it as just the beginning.
Dealing with Dispatch Down
In Ireland, "dispatch down" is a practice where system operators instruct energy producers to reduce their electricity production due to the grid’s lack of capacity. Total dispatch down has been increasing in recent years, effectively disincentivizing renewable energy production. Bitcoin mining, as Mark Morton and his team have found, can be the incentive.
Developing the world’s first Biogas Bitcoin mining farm
Mark's initial project involved setting up a Bitcoin mining operation for a farmer with an AD plant in Armagh, Northern Ireland. This project became the world’s first model for mining Bitcoin from renewable biogas. This pioneering development has garnered a lot of interest, especially since the Irish Farmers Journal published an article about it.
Scilling Digital Mining's flagship product, the PowerVault68, is a custom-built container that is designed to house ASIC machines. The company had to create a bespoke solution that adheres to specific Irish and European electrical, ventilation, and general engineering requirements. One of the challenges they faced was designing a container that would fit European roads and semi-trucks, which are generally smaller than their North American counterparts. The standard size for the PowerVault68 is 250kW and 5.5 meters long, which is smaller than North American standards. According to Mark, this size seems to be more suitable for AD plants and the European market as a whole.
What is Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas?
Anaerobic digestion is a natural process that breaks down organic matter in the absence of oxygen and produces biogas, which is primarily made up of methane and carbon dioxide. Biogas can be used as a renewable energy source for heating, electricity generation, and transportation fuel as it is almost identical to non-renewable natural gas. The typical inputs for an AD plant include animal manure, feedstocks such as grass silage, waste from chicken farms and dairy processing, crop waste, and food waste. Fertilizer, called digestate, is also a byproduct of AD.
Scilling Digital Mining
Scilling Digital Mining aims to expand its operations in the coming years. The company plans to spread throughout Europe while building its own mining operations. While they currently operate with an off-grid model, they hope to move toward on-grid integration. They are solely focused on Bitcoin as it is where they have true conviction to offer their clients peace of mind and staying power for 15-20 years plus.
Scilling Digital Mining does not have a preference for biogas projects, and any project is open as long as the economics check out. That being said, biogas is the simplest for mining due to having 100% uptime without the peaks and troughs inherent to wind and solar energy production. Described as being ideal for "localized load control and methane capture" while offering "location agnostic, flexible demand" makes Bitcoin mining a compelling option for energy producers of all kinds.