Monash to investigate use of the blockchain for sustainability. Photo: Shutterstock
A Monash University-led consortium of blockchain researchers will explore new multidisciplinary blockchain applications after securing a share of $72 million ($US50 million) in funding from the blockchain sustainability-focused Algorand Foundation.
Designed to promote the development of applications for what it calls a “carbon-negative Layer 1 blockchain”, the Algorand Centres of Excellence (ACE) program is a cornerstone of Singapore-based Algorand’s work to find more energy-efficient ways of implementing blockchain-based solutions that leverage the technology’s security, transparency, and verifiability.
Some 77 proposals for ACE funding were received from 550 participants spread across 46 countries, with winners chosen by a multi-disciplinary international panel of 27 experts.
That made for an “incredibly difficult” selection process, said Algorand Foundation principal researcher and head of the ACE Program Dr Hugo Krawczyk in announcing the winners, “but we’re delighted to see how many bright, talented people around the globe recognise the ability of blockchain technology to fundamentally change and better the world we live in.”
Recipients will create Algorand Centres of Excellence research and education hubs on their campuses, supporting a range of activities including multi-disciplinary research around blockchain and cryptocurrency as well as university courses, hackathons, and accelerators; development of real-world solutions, applications, and use cases; social impact and sustainability projects based on blockchain technology; and expansion of the Algorand community.
The grant, which will fund a five-year regional project called Sustainability Informatics for the Pacific, will be led by Monash University’s Blockchain Technology Centre (MBTC) with support from dozens of researchers at the University of Queensland, University of Sydney, Swinburne University of Technology, University of Fiji, University of the South Pacific, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Melbourne-based Oceania Cyber Security Centre and ClimateWorks Centre.
Support from a range of research partners will give the program significant momentum, MBTC head Dr Joseph Liu told Information Age.
“They are our long-term collaboration partners,” he said, “and we understand that they have a very strong capability to deliver the implementation of blockchain applications. We are a team consisting of truly interdisciplinary areas.”
MBTC’s ongoing research work includes development of algorithms capable of maintaining data security and privacy in the quantum decryption age, use of blockchain to provide verifiable academic credentials, blockchain interoperability, deepfake detection, and development of hack-resistant RepuCoin cryptocurrency infrastructure.
With partners across a range of technical and artistic disciplines, the ACE-backed projects will cast a wide net including work around non-fungible tokens (NFTs), clean water, agricultural supply chains, and climate change.
This includes possible projects such as building a blockchain-backed carbon trading system that would allow companies or individuals to claim carbon credits for environmentally-friendly activities – and buy the credits if their carbon emissions are too high.
“In this way, everybody – not just big companies – can participate in this carbon credit trading,” said Liu.
“Algorand wants people to know that blockchain technology is not just for cryptocurrency or investment, but that it is also for the general social good and sustainability.
“Australia is part of the Pacific family, and I think we have a responsibility to use this technology to provide sustainability across the region.”
Greening the blockchain
The funding comes as new figures confirm the significant environmental toll that blockchain and cryptocurrency are taking on the world’s energy supplies.
Bitcoin alone is estimated to consume around 91.1 terawatt-hours per year, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index – more than the entire country of Finland.
The ‘proof of work’ based protocol is 11 times more power-hungry than alternative cryptocurrencies like Ethereum – and individual transactions consuming hundreds of thousands of times more power than a typical Visa credit-card transaction.
“Conceptually, it doesn’t seem like Bitcoin mining should require enormous amounts of energy,” CryptoMonday CEO Jonathan Merry said, “however the process is actually quite energy intensive.”
Bitcoin miners “must use ever-more powerful computers to stay ahead of the competition,” he said. “The large amount of energy required to power these computers is one of the biggest obstacles to profitability in Bitcoin mining.”
The power hit from Bitcoin was one of the reasons Elon Musk cited in reversing a previous policy that allowed customers to pay for Tesla vehicles using the cryptocurrency; reiterating the point, the car maker also recently dumped 75 per cent of its Bitcoin holdings.
Tapping the low-powered design of the Algorand blockchain will be core to the work being done under the ACE grant – and Liu’s team is already working around the technology, having launched a partnership with Algorand Foundation last December to explore MBTC research interests.
“Algorand is a more advanced blockchain system that uses ‘proof of stake’,” Liu explained. “It is very efficient and does not need to use much electricity to provide security.
“We need to educate not just our students, but people in our society, to understand that blockchain can be good for our environment.”