Chia Cryptocurrency Could Drive Greater HDD Utilization, Less Waste

Back in April I wrote a bit about Chia, the newly introduced cryptocurrency that uses allocated free space on storage devices rather than intensive calculations on specialized processors to generate a cryptocurrency.  Conventional cryptocurrency mining, often with done using GPUs, consumes large amounts of power and has been characterized as not-ecofriendly.  In May Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla said that Tesla would no longer accept Bitcoin as payment because he said it is too hard on the environment.

The Chia cryptocurrency mining doesn’t require large amounts of energy to generate its cryptocurrency.  According to the Chia Business Whitepaper (March 1, 2021 version) proof of work in Bitcoin uses about 87 TW-hours per year as of December 2020.  Chia’s proof of space and time model involves deleting data on a storage device and then compute a “plot” or block for Chia that is written on the storage space.  Chia uses a farming rather than a mining analogy for the ways its coins get generated.  

The written plots then sit and wait until another generated plot in the Chia universe matches one of the existing plots, releasing a Chia coin.  The odds of such a match are equal to your portion of the total network space dedicated to Chia farming.  The result of this plotting and farming process uses a lot less energy, but it does use digital storage space.

Chia plots are usually generated using SSDs since they can generate the plots fast and then the plots, once created, are moved to HDDs for the farming.  Chia plowing and plotting can take 6-7 hours for each plot.  This can generate a lot of wear on the SSDs, especially lower capacity consumer grade SSds and so higher capacity enterprise class SSDs are recommended for this process.  The HDDs used to farm Chia coins are generally high capacity consumer grade HDDs.

A completely full 10TB HDD can store about 90 standard Chia blocks, which are 101.4 GiB each.  The total network space is increasing with each additional Chia farmer and as a result the odds of winning coins are dropping.  In addition, the amount of Chia coins with each plot match will decline over time.


SSDs must be replaced when they wear out, but Chia results in a lot of used HDD storage space, that must be left with its plots once written.  This has resulted in increased demand for HDDs where the farmed plots reside.  As a consequence, HDD prices have increased and some higher capacity HDDs are in short supply.  The figure below from Chia Explorer shows the size of the Chia netspace (in PiB) as of 6/29/21.

However, there are reports that the surge in HDD demand as a result of Chia is declining, and talking with folks at Chia, they believe that there is lot of underutilized digital storage in the world, particularly in HDDs and that long term people won’t want to buy new hardware for Chia mining.  

In particular many consumers are only using about 20% of their total HDD storage space.  Also, many companies and governments destroy their used digital storage devices, even after they have been sanitized (with all the data erased).  If instead, these storage devices could be written on with Chia plots, that could be a much better use of these devices versus destroying them.

Chia is working to get companies to build on top of the Chia cryptocurrency platform.  The company hopes that in the next few months major applications, carbon trading and various other activities could use Chia cryptocurrency.

Backblaze, a low cost cloud storage provider recently said in a blog that an organization called Plottair approached Backblaze about building a SaaS offering storage services to Chia farmers using Blackblaze’s B2 Cloud Storage.  Plottair aims to help Chia farmers enter this market at scale using cloud storage with a fully automated plotting service with optional cloud harvesting and multi-region download locations.  

Plottair had a plotting capacity of 50TB per day and a download window for customers to farm of 30 days.  Their storage demand led them to Backblaze to store completed plots that are then made available for customers to download.

Chia cryptocurrency led to a surge in HDD demand.  However, in the long term use of underutilized HDD storage and functional storage devices that would otherwise be destroyed could allow expansion of Chia cryptocurrency farming in the long run with less impact on new drive demand and greater utilization of existing storage.


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