Last Monday, on December 13, 2021, Bitcoin (BTC)
reached a new milestone. Data from blockchain tracker Blockchain.com shows that 90% of all Bitcoins have now been mined. The maximum number of BTC there will ever be is 21 million, and 18.89 million Bitcoins have now been released.
The first Bitcoins were mined on January 9, 2009, so it‘s taken about 13 years to reach 90%. However, the remaining 10% will take many times longer. This has to do with so-called "halvings".
Bitcoin, as a Proof-of-Work network, depends on "miners" who continuously process transactions and validate blocks. Miners use the processing power of their computers to do this, and as a reward they receive a bit of Bitcoin. For every block mined, a miner receives 6.25 Bitcoin, but in 2024 this changes.
In 2024, there will be a "halving," an event in which the rewards for miners halve. For each block mined, a miner will then receive only 3.125 BTC. However, this is not the first halving; three halvings have already preceded it. In 2012 the block reward went from 50 to 25 BTC, in 2016 it went from 25 to 12.5 BTC and in 2020 from 12.5 to 6.25 BTC.
Halvings take place about every four years, so the issuance of new Bitcoin will be slower and slower. For example, if you do the math, by 2036 you will end up with a block reward of only 0.39 BTC. It is estimated that 210,000 blocks can fit into four years, so only 82,000 additional BTC would be mined from 2036 to 2040.
Ultimately the remaining 10% is estimated to take another 120 years. Based on estimates of network activity and halvings, experts believe the last Bitcoin will be mined in February 2140.
Many Bitcoins have been lost
Prices have increased along with supply over time. The number one cryptocurrency
was trading for less than $0.10 when 10% of the supply was mined in early 2010, and hovered around $7.50 when 50% of the supply was mined in December 2012. At the time of writing, the price stands at over $49,000, having fallen 28% from its all-time high of $69,000 earlier this year.
However, the rise in supply, like the price, is not one straight line up. Crypto analytics firm Chainalysis estimates that 3.7 million bitcoins have been "lost," based on analyzing address activity. So there will never actually be 21 million Bitcoins on the open market, due to people losing their seed phrase, for example, or even dying. Also, 1 million bitcoin is in the possession of Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto
, untouched since the pseudonymous person mined these BTC in the early days of Bitcoin.
So by 2140, all Bitcoins will have been mined, but that doesn't mean 21 million will be in circulation. A large portion will be lost forever, and Bitcoins are bound to be lost even after 2140.