Last October, Motherboard News Outlet gained access to a massive, secretive Bitcoin mining operation, housed within a repurposed factory in the Liaoning Province in rural northeast China.
The mine they’ve visited is just one of six sites owned by a secretive group of four people, part of a colossal mining operation that, as of our visit, cumulatively generated 4,050 Bitcoins a month, equal to a monthly gross of $1.5 million.
Despite its dystopian appearance, the group’s six mining farms encompass eight petahashes of computing power, whose brute force, as of October, accounted for 3 percent of the entire Bitcoin network.
If you’ve bought or sold or conducted any Bitcoin transaction recently, these are some of the folks you have to thank.
Strangely, the mine’s workers actually live in the facility itself, returning home just four or five days a month.
In the summer months, temperatures inside are in excess of 100 degrees, and a persistent, deafening buzz is always present due to the dozens of industrial fans required to keep up a steady temperature for the site’s 3,000 ASIC miners—custom-built computers specifically built for mining bitcoins.
It should be noted too that a couple of months is basically a lifetime in the cryptocurrency world, and so, Bitcoin’s price, difficulty, and hashrate has, unsurprisingly, fluctuated wildly in the months following our visit (the price was hovering around $375 a bitcoin when we were there).
For the Bitcoin world, 2014 was a bit of a wild year: one that saw a pronounced uptick in Bitcoin’s mainstream acceptance from the likes of Microsoft, Dish, and Dell. There was even a BitPay-sponsored “Bitcoin Bowl” during the college football postseason.
And just last month, news broke that the first licensed US Bitcoin exchange ‘Coinbase’ was set to open, a huge milestone for the six-year-old cryptocurrency and the Gemini Exchange that it’s upcoming from the Winkeloss brothers.
But despite its reputation in the press and purported unmasking of its creator, the real face of Bitcoin belongs to the people operating the mines.