When Will the Last Bitcoin Be Mined?
Content Marketing Team
Bitcoin is a finite resource. This fact is well-understood by blockchain aficionados, but it can easily confuse newcomers to crypto. By design, Bitcoin was always meant to be produced only to a certain limit. It was also meant to become harder to produce (mine) over time.
Even among people “in the know”, it’s uncertain exactly when the last Bitcoin will be mined. However, there is a general understanding of how the process will play out and the year in which it should happen.
In this article, we will explain Bitcoin’s intentional scarcity, how much there is, and the limitations that will eventually add up to the end of Bitcoin mining.
How Much Bitcoin is There in Circulation?
As of November 2022, there are approximately 19,207,800 BTC in circulation. This figure represents approximately 91% of the total possible circulating supply of Bitcoin.
The quantity of BTC in circulation should continue to increase, but it will do so steadily slower. This should continue until the total amount mined equals 21,000,000 BTC.
Limitations on “Circulation”
While there is a measured 19,207,800 BTC “in circulation” (CoinMarketCap), this can be deceiving as well. This figure includes Bitcoin which has been mined in the past but has since been lost. By “lost” we mean quite a few things, among them Bitcoin that was once owned but has since been lost by the owner due to:
- The loss of their keys
- The loss of the physical device inside which the BTC was stored
- The death of the owner
There are plenty of high-profile cases of high quantities of BTC being lost because the owner simply lost their password. In such cases, the Bitcoin cannot be recovered by any other means than the owner reacquiring the password.
Unfortunately, we cannot know for certain how much Bitcoin has been lost forever. Some estimates range as high as 3 to 4 million. Chainalysis recently put the figure at 3.7 million, but these educated guesses are often based on imperfect methods. This normally includes a measure of the amount of Bitcoin that hasn’t been moved during a set period. Another limiting factor is that a “lost” Bitcoin appears exactly the same on the blockchain as one that is owned and in the safe hands of the official owner.
Why Will Bitcoin Run Out?
The short answer is that it was designed that way and there is no way to change it.
Bitcoin was built based on blockchain technology, a young innovation that is constantly changing. Bitcoin itself will probably change over time. However, no new Bitcoins can be mined once the cap of 21 million has entered circulation.
Bitcoin’s founder chose this because at the time Bitcoin was very experimental. So, he created a cap to provide scarcity to increase its value. The other reason was to control the inevitable issue of inflation which can affect any resource with an unlimited supply.
Right now, this cap is the first limitation, but halving provides another limitation that any investor must be aware of.
Every four years, the reward for mining (the “block reward”) is halved. That means that as more BTC enters circulation, miners’ abilities to produce more are progressively hindered. In 2008, a block of transactions was worth 50 BTC. In 2012, it was reduced to 25, and so forth.
This has continued over time as intended. In 2024, it is forecasted that miners will only earn 1.56 BTC for their role in verifying a block of transactions.
This is the process that will continue until the very last Bitcoin is mined.
This process means by definition that Bitcoin mining is coming to an inevitable end. But this same process of halving means that it will slow down to even more agonizingly low block rewards. Production will slow to such an extent that even the most liberal estimates give Bitcoin mining over another century to continue.
What Happens Between Now & 21 Million?
The continuity of the halving process has immediate and continuing implications for miners and investors.
For miners, rewards will continue to become scarcer, meaning their efforts return far smaller payoffs. As the possibility of gaining block rewards becomes scarcer, miners will become more dependent on transaction fees, and less so on block rewards. At some point, miners will make more from those transactions than they do from mining, further reducing their incentives to mine.
The impact this will have on investors (which also includes miners who hold BTC) is not entirely certain.
BTC transactions may become more exclusive. Some platforms may shift to only facilitate large BTC transactions that can justify the high cost of conducting them.
Some analysts believe that new innovations may arise to cut these costs down. At the time of writing, BitInfoCharts placed the average cost of BTC transactions at 0.000092 BTC (USD 1.55). This is a figure that follows increasingly lower costs.
What Happens After 21 Million?
After reaching the total cap of 21 million, the main implication is that mining will be unprofitable. Supply will be fixed, except for the case of increasing scarcity as more people inevitably lose their BTC in the ways listed above, permanently taking their crypto out of the market with them.
Miners will continue to be rewarded at that point, but only in transaction fee proceeds. It will no longer be possible to earn block rewards for new coins. At this point, block rewards will likely be a trifle compared to what they were between 2010 and 2016.
It’s highly probable that reaching the circulation limit will push the price of Bitcoin up.
When Exactly Should Bitcoin Mining End?
Under current conditions and trajectories, Bitcoin mining should end by 2140.
This may be longer than you were expecting to hear, but the halving process really does slow down the time it will take to get there.
Right now, on average, 144 blocks are mined every day. However, the amount of BTC created from the process continues to halve.
Mining, on the other hand, has also become more efficient. While it used to take 10 minutes to mine a new block, it now takes closer to 9 minutes and 30 seconds. So, new Bitcoins are added into circulation faster, even though the amount is lower.
From this point, the ability to predict the future becomes much more difficult. We do have a few facts though which paint a clearer picture.
The Slowly Approaching Inevitable End
Right now, after 3 rounds of halving, the block reward is 6.25 BTC. We know that between now and 2040, 30 more halvings will take place.
After 29 more rounds of halving, the block reward will be phenomenally low, at just 0.000000011641532 BTC. After the next round of halving after that, Bitcoin’s block reward is destined to hit zero.
Of course, this assumes that everything continues as usual and there is no reason so far to assume anything will change. One note of some significance (but not much) is that Bitcoin halving doesn’t occur exactly every 4 years, though it is very close. This may produce some very small variance, but it’s more of a fun fact than it is something for any investor to concern themselves with.
Of course, the block rewards are set to reach incredibly low levels long before 2040. The 6th halving, set for 2032 (approximately), will mark the first time that the block reward is less than 1 BTC.
The Bottom Line
The last Bitcoin is set to be mined around the time when the last possible halving is set for. Well, technically it’s the last tiny fraction of a Bitcoin, as the block reward will be extremely small by that time.
2140 is the year that will almost certainly see the end of Bitcoin mining. Miners will still produce income for themselves through transaction fees, but the days of block rewards will be over.
More innovations and uses for Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology will certainly arise. But, by design, there cannot be any changes to the maximum circulating supply limit that Bitcoin was launched with.