A Glimpse Into The Future – What Happens When There Are No More Bitcoin To Mine?

Bitcoin’s (BTC) blockchain hit a unique milestone in April as the 17 millionth BTC was mined.

If you’re wondering why this number is significant, it’s because there are only four mln tokens left to mine before the 21 mln BTC cap is reached. However, the truth is that most people alive today are unlikely to see that happen.

Bitcoin’s blockchain protocol makes mining more difficult as more miners join the pool, and the Bitcoin reward for mining a block also halves every 210,000 blocks. As it stands, miners receive a 12.5 BTC reward for unlocking a new block. According to BitcoinBlockHalf.com, the next reward halving will happen in May 2020 – reducing the reward to 6.25 coins.

Assuming that there are no changes to the protocol, the Bitcoin cap will be reached by 2140, 122 years from now.

Nevertheless, it’s taken just 9 years to mine 80 percent of the total Bitcoin that will ever be available, in a little over 520,000 blocks, as shown in the graph below.

BITCOINS IN CIRCULATION

BLOCKCHAIN SIZE

What happens when we mine the last Bitcoin?

Currently, miners are still heavily incentivized to mine in order to obtain increasingly more valuable Bitcoin tokens as a reward before the supply reaches its capacity.

But, when the day comes that the 21 mln cap is hit, there will be no more BTC rewards for miners. However, transactions still need to be validated and stored on blocks in the blockchain – so miners will only benefit from transaction fees.

As it stands, Bitcoin transactions are processed by the network in order of the transaction fee associated to that specific transaction. The higher the fee, the more incentive there is for a miner to prioritise your to be included in a block.

This could essentially be the lifeblood of miners in the next century, once there are no more BTC tokens to be unlocked. This is laid out in Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin whitepaper:

“Once a predetermined number of coins have entered circulation, the incentive can transition entirely to transaction fees and be completely inflation free.”

What could happen in between?

A major point to consider here is that there are more than 100 years to go before the last Bitcoin is created. Considering that it’s just been short of 10 years since the Bitcoin’s inception, a lot could happen during this time.

As Nakamoto envisaged, nodes are responsible for maintaining the blockchain and verifying transactions. The move away from a trust-based system to a proof-of-work system that operates by consensus of the longest chain:

“They [nodes] vote with their CPU power, expressing their acceptance of valid blocks by working on extending them and rejecting invalid blocks by refusing to work on them. Any needed rules and incentives can be enforced with this consensus mechanism.”

The last sentence of that statement is particularly telling, as miners and exchanges have had to operate in tandem at trying times in the last few years.

Segwit revisited

In 2017, the issue of scalability, block capacity and transaction costs came to a head.

In 2010, Nakamoto implemented a 1MB size limit for blocks in order to stop miners producing bigger blocks that were likely to be rejected by the network – which could have caused the blockchain to split.

At the time, the limit was more than big enough due to the small amount of transactions and the fact that a change could be implemented at a later stage – if need be…

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