In Texas, the largest bitcoin factory in the United States will consume the equivalent of half a nuclear reactor

By Arnaud Leparmentier

Posted today at 09:37

Finally, it was possible to enter the Holy of Holies: in twenty rows, and almost 300 meters long, in a deafening noise, 23,000 computers are running at full speed. All the same, all with the same program, connected to each other, with two fans each. The mass effect is such that the computers cause a current of air, which arrives cool from the outside through cells and is expelled hot in a cooling room and escapes through the roof.

Here we are at Whinstone, in the largest bitcoin mining factory in the United States, in Rockdale, a small rural town in the heart of Texas, between Houston and Austin. Mining is the work of running the immense decentralized transaction system of bitcoins. As compensation, miners get free bitcoins, which makes their fortune: 16 bitcoins a day in February, with a total of 38,300 computers. In total, the company has accumulated 5,783 tokens, a jackpot of around 230 million dollars (208 million euros), with a bitcoin price of 40,000 dollars.

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The craftsman of this factory, which emerged from the ground in early 2020, is Chad Harris, the CEO of Whinstone, who gives a tour of the owner. There are seven hangars like the one we are visiting, three of which are under construction. In one of them, an experimental system: the computers have been immersed by the thousands in a special oil, which reduces their heating and increases their efficiency. Curious contrast to see these computers immersed in liquid running silently. This does not prevent them from consuming energy. Eventually, Whinstone will go from an electrical capacity of 300 megawatts to 700 megawatts, almost as much as half an atomic reactor. “It’s not a nuclear power plant, but it’s a lot of energy”, concedes Chad Harris. In this time of global warming, nobody cares in Texas. The gas is there, abundant, which is used to generate electricity, and Chad Harris transforms the energy into bitcoins.

Whinstone CEO Chad Harris poses in the room where the heat created by the hardware is vented.  Near Rockdale, Texas, USA, Wednesday, March 9, 2022.

A paradoxical situation

His journey resembles that of American adventurous entrepreneurs, where the truth seems more beautiful than any legend. Chad Harris used to sell pre-decorated Christmas trees in New Orleans, Louisiana, but in his business he got angry with his bank, which froze his accounts in 2014. “I have never missed a payment. I didn’t like having my accounts blocked.” he explains to us in a prefab nicknamed “la Maison Banche”, which serves as his office. He calls his son, a teenage bitcoin fan, and here they are embarking on the adventure of mining bitcoins, cryptocurrencies supposed to escape the grip of any authority. They start their business in New Orleans, but the business does not take off. Not enough energy, too many taxes, too much bureaucracy in Louisiana. He then eyed neighboring Texas and discovered, in mid-2019, in the press, the misadventure of a competitor.

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