One of the world’s largest bitcoin mines is located in the SanShangLiang industrial park on the outskirts of the city of Ordos, in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region that’s part of China. It’s 400 miles from China’s capital, Beijing, and 35 miles from the the city of Baotou. The mine is just off the highway, near the intersection of Latitutde 3rd Road and Longitude 3rd Road. It sits amidst abandoned, half-built factories—victims of an earlier coal mining boom that fizzled out, leaving Ordos and its outlying areas littered with the shells of unfinished buildings.
The mine belongs to Bitmain, a Beijing-based company that also makes mining machines that perform billions of calculations per second to try and crack the cryptographic puzzle that yields new bitcoins. Fifty Bitmain staff, many of them local to Ordos, watch over eight buildings crammed with 25,000 machines that are cranking through calculations 24 hours a day. One of the buildings is devoted to mining litecoin, an ascendant cryptocurrency. The staff live on-site in a building with a dormitory, offices, a canteen, and a repair center. For recreation, they play basketball on an unfinished cement court.
Bitcoin mining consumes enormous amounts of electricity, which is why miners seek out locations that offer cheap energy. The Ordos mine was set up in 2014, making it China’s oldest large-scale bitcoin mining facility. Bitmain acquired it in 2015. It’s powered by electricity mostly from coal-fired power plants. Its daily electricity bill amounts to $39,000. Bitmain also operates other mines in China’s remote areas, like the mountainous Yunnan province in the south and the autonomous region of Xinjiang in the west.
Despite the costs, bitcoin mining remains a lucrative industry. At the current bitcoin price of about $4,000 per bitcoin, miners compete for over $7 million in new bitcoins a day. The more processing power a mining operation controls, the higher its chances of winning a chunk of those millions. The Ordos mine accounts for over 4% of the processing power on the bitcoin network—a huge amount for a single facility.
Bitmain mine in Ordos on Aug. 11.