The number of Bitcoin in existence changes rapidly, every ten minutes, to be precise. The cryptocurrency, created by the pseudo-anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, has become the largest and most popular cryptocurrency in the world.
But what makes it so valuable? One reason why BTC has so much value attached to it is because of its fixed supply. Nakamoto, when creating Bitcoin, put a cap of 21 million on the cryptocurrency. So how many Bitcoins are in circulation, how many are left, and when will we hit the magic number?
This article will take a look at all that and more.
- Bitcoin’s total supply is capped at 21 million.
- The number of Bitcoins issued may never reach this figure due to the use of rounding operators in the cryptocurrency’s codebase.
- No additional BTC will be created when the cryptocurrency reaches its upper limit.
- From this point onwards, miners can only earn income through transaction fees.
How Many Bitcoins Are Mined Every Day?
Right this very minute, there are 19,217,425 BTC in existence. However, this is a number that changes very frequently. There are 1,782,575 Bitcoin left to mine, another number that changes every ten minutes. This is because miners create new blocks every ten minutes, who validate transactions and add them to them. The current reward for miners is fixed at 6.25 BTC, meaning 900 BTC are mined daily. Miners also receive a very small amount of BTC through transaction fees, so they usually prioritize transactions with high fees.
However, miner rewards are halved every four years through a process called halving. Initially, the block reward stood at 50 BTC. The first halving occurred in 2012 when the reward was slashed to 25 BTC. In 2016, the second halving event saw the rewards drop further to 12.5 BTC. The latest halving occurred in 2020 and saw miner rewards slashed to 6.25 BTC.
When Will BTC Reach 21 Million?
While the cryptocurrency is capped at 21 million, Bitcoin is not expected to reach this exact figure. This is because Bitcoin’s network uses something called bit-shift operators, which are arithmetic operators that round off decimal points to the closest smallest integer. The rounding down could occur when the block reward is divided in half and the reward for the new amount is calculated. This number can be represented in “satoshis.” One satoshi equals 0.0000000.1 BTC. A satoshi is the smallest unit of measurement when it comes to Bitcoin and cannot be split in half. As a result, when tasked with dividing a satoshi to calculate a new reward amount, the blockchain uses bit-shift operators to round down to the nearest integer. This rounding down of Bitcoin rewards is why the total number of Bitcoins would probably fall short of the exact 21 million figure.
As mentioned earlier, Bitcoin rewards are halved every four years, which means miners will mine the final BTC around 2140.
Factors Affecting Circulating Supply
Several other factors could prevent the circulating supply of Bitcoin from reaching 21 million.
We don’t know how many Bitcoins are lost, with some estimates putting the figure between 1 and 4 million BTC. This is because it is difficult to tell the difference between a wallet that consists of “lost” Bitcoin and a wallet that belongs to someone who is hodl-ing. Let’s look at an example to prove this point. In 2020, around 40 BTC were moved from an address that had been inactive since 2009. These coins could have previously been classified as lost Bitcoins, but their owner had access to them all this time and just decided to hold them for a decade.
While it may be difficult to estimate the total number of lost Bitcoins, one thing that most are sure of is that Satoshi Nakamoto’s coins are lost. Nakamoto had mined around 1 million BTC, and none of them have been accessed since Nakamoto’s disappearance. Other losses have been attributed to holders losing their hardware or paper wallets or their private keys, rendering them unable to access their Bitcoins. Most of these types of losses occurred during the early days of the cryptocurrency when holders were not as careful with their wallets or keys.
Apart from lost Bitcoins, thousands have been stolen over the years. The most infamous was the hacking of the Mt. Gox exchange, handling 70% of Bitcoin trading. The hack resulted in the loss of 850,000 BTC. In 2016, the Bitfinex exchange hack saw 150,000 BTC stolen by hackers. However, it emerged in August 2022 that Mt Gox would reimburse its creditors 142,000 BTC.
Investors who jumped into the market very early could purchase massive amounts of Bitcoin at low prices. These investors are called whales because they own enough BTC to significantly impact market prices when they buy or sell. Around 1600 entities own nearly 5 million BTC, representing 28% of the total supply. Nakamoto’s Bitcoin wallet holds over 1 million BTC. Other prominent Bitcoin whales are Chris Larsen, Michael Saylor, Brian Armstrong, and the Winklevoss Twins, to name a few.
What Will Happen Once All 21 Million BTC Are Mined?
Once 21 million BTC are mined, no new coins will be issued. However, transactions will continue as usual and be pooled into blocks and processed. Miners will be most impacted when Bitcoin reaches its supply cap because they will be able to generate profits only through transaction fees. However, the impact will depend on how BTC evolves as a cryptocurrency. If the Bitcoin blockchain processes a significant number of transactions in 2140, miners could still generate substantial profits through transaction fees.
Miners would be able to profit even with the disappearance of block rewards and low-transaction volumes by charging high transaction fees for processing high-value transactions. They can also process large batches of transactions through layer-2 solutions, such as the Lightning Network, and facilitate daily spending. However, if Bitcoin mining becomes unprofitable for miners, we could also see some adverse outcomes due to BTC hitting its supply cap.
- Miners could form cartels to control mining resources and command a high transaction fee.
- Miners could also collude to hide new valid blocks and later release them as orphan blocks. This practice could significantly increase block processing times, ensuring that high fees are paid for new blocks.
Bitcoin’s supply cap is intended to help make the asset deflationary in the long run. With over 19 million BTC already mined, newer Bitcoins will be mined at an ever-slowing rate. However, given the popularity of Bitcoin, it is safe to assume that the cryptocurrency will continue to attract stakeholders even after it reaches its cap. Reaching its supply cap will not create a doomsday scenario but would most likely have the opposite effect.
If you want to learn more about BTC, head over to CoinSmart.