Making cryptocurrency: How waste from old coal mine is powering a Bitcoin mine in a Pennsylvania town

NESQUEHONING, Pennsylvania (WPVI) — It could be part of the future of digital currency, it could be a new way to clean up the environment, or it could be both.

At the Panther Creek plant in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, the waste from old coal mines is being used to power a Bitcoin mine.

The plant is 2,800 miles away from Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey are not seen walking these streets.

And yet, the borough of Nesquehoning, tucked into a valley in Pennsylvania coal country, is the site of America’s newest, large-scale Bitcoin mine.

“I didn’t know they had a Bitcoin mine. What is it? I mean, how do they mine Bitcoin?” said James Ehling of Jim Thorpe, Pa.

“My father was a miner years ago. But as far as what you call it, I never heard of it that way,” said Debbie Tristani of Nesquehoning, Pa.

Publicly-traded Stronghold Digital Mining purchased the Panther Creek Energy Facility, a defunct coal plant in town, to power its Bitcoin mine.

Energy industry veteran Bill Spence says he came up with the idea to make money on digital currency while also cleaning up his home state of coal refuse.

“I think I’m curious, painfully curious,” said Spence. When asked why it’s painful, he said, “it’s a never-ending process. It’s an itch you just can’t scratch.”

“There’s a direct correlation in art with us, with Bitcoin and cleaning up the environment,” he continued.

Workers transport the coal waste from several sites, the largest being the Swoyersville dump site near Wilkes-Barre. They separate usable coal from the massive piles and use it to generate electricity.

Some power is sold back to the grid for profit.

Most are used to power and cool a field of computer servers, all hooked up to the Blockchain to help process Bitcoin transactions all around the world.

The Blockchain, an automated computer ledger for Bitcoin, grants Stronghold fractions of Bitcoin as a “thank you” in return.

That is the digital mining part.

There are 80 trailers on site, each containing 64 computer servers, all of which have been mining Bitcoin for the two hours that we’ve been here. In the span of that time, Stronghold estimates that they have mined about 1 Bitcoin. In today’s prices, that means they earned more than $19,100.

“It’s not built for cosmetics, that’s for sure,” said Dave Buchinski of Stronghold Digital Mining

“It’s kind of like building the internet, right, when not anybody knew what the internet was not too long ago. It’s definitely a little bit different, but it’s a more sustainable way to do transactions and so we’re building that infrastructure for that down the road,” Buchinski said.

Yes, this is not a zero-carbon project.

Stronghold is burning fossil fuels to power and air condition these hot, humming, super-loud computer servers.

But Spence points out Pennsylvania has millions of tons of leftover coal waste piled next to towns, polluting groundwater and sending ash toxins into the air.

And Spence, a cancer survivor himself, says someone has to get rid of it.

“These communities built America, they powered America, and this material was dumped in these communities. What we do is we eradicate the problem,” said Spence.

Stronghold expects to have the four million tons of coal waste at the Swoyersville site cleared in a few years, potentially saving the nearby residents from the ill-health effects and paving the way for new development and open space.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection estimates it would cost taxpayers more than $5 billion to clean up all of the state’s abandoned mines. So, it is happy to provide subsidies to companies like Stronghold willing to get rid of the piles

Now, if only the price of Bitcoin will go back to its highs of nearly $70,000, reached only late last year.

When asked how much Bitcoin he owns, Buchinski said, “at this moment, enough to hopefully keep us happy for a while.”

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