Home / Education / Crypto / Blockchain / What Happens to Bitcoin After All 21 Million Are Mined?
Blockchain
8 min read
intermediate

What Happens to Bitcoin After All 21 Million Are Mined?

Published October 20, 2023 10:25 AM
Andrew Kamsky
Published October 20, 2023 10:25 AM

Key Takeaways

  • By 2140, 21 million Bitcoins will be mined, enhancing the network’s scarcity and value.
  • Miners’ Bitcoin rewards decrease after every 210,000 blocks mined in an event called the Bitcoin halving and by 2140, miners will rely solely on transaction fees.
  • Miners’ motivation to secure the network is done to seek profit, support decentralization, and view mining as a long-term investment.
  • Transaction fees, which currently account for about 5% of miner’s revenue, may balance out the declining block rewards in the future, especially with off-chain solutions like the Lightning Network emerging.

Bitcoin mining was increasingly attractive due to the lucrative incentives for miners to maximize their Bitcoin yield. Starting at 50 Bitcoins every block back when it first launched, miners now earn 6.25 BTC for validating a block, a reward which has been halved thrice since Bitcoin’s inception. There are currently over 19.5 million Bitcoins currently in circulation, leaving 1.5 million yet to be mined before hitting the 21 million cap by the year 2140.

Bitcoins finite supply is a defining part of Satoshi Nakamoto’s decentralized protocol. In an effort to engineer the cryptocurrency with a predetermined limit, Bitcoin boasts scarcity which increases Bitcoins demand and value over time. 

After all 21 million Bitcoin are mined, the incentive for miners will shift solely to transaction fees for verifying and securing blockchain transactions. Post-2140, there will be zero block rewards, but the network will continue to operate and remain secure because of these transaction fees.

Why Do Miners Participate In Bitcoin Mining?

Miners decide to engage in the mining process for a variety of reasons, both financial and ideological. Here are the primary motivations:

Financial Incentive

The most obvious reason is the potential for profit. Miners receive block rewards every ten minutes at random and transaction fees from the blocks they successfully mine. Especially in the early days of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, many miners were attracted by the prospect of earning substantial rewards.

Supporting Decentralization

Cryptocurrencies offer a decentralized alternative to traditional centralized financial systems. By participating in mining, individuals contribute to this decentralization, ensuring that the network remains resistant to censorship and external control.

Long-term Investment Strategy

By mining and accumulating cryptocurrency, some miners view their activities as a long-term investment strategy, hoping that the coins they mine now will appreciate in value in the future. The below chart illustrates the hashrate that is currently securing the network. 

Hash Rate | Source: LookIntoBitcoin

A high hashrate on the Bitcoin network signifies its strength and robustness, instilling trust among investors about the network’s security.

While there might be occasional dips in the hashrate due to various reasons, they often represent temporary shifts. For instance, when China implemented a ban on Bitcoin mining, in 2021, miners adapted by relocating their operations, showcasing the resilience and adaptability of the Bitcoin community. Such moments emphasize the dynamic nature of the network and its ability to overcome challenges.

Understanding Bitcoin’s Supply Incentive And Miner Revenue

During bull markets as illustrated in the LookIntoBitcoin  chart below, the rise in fees becomes a greater source of income for miners. This surge in fees corresponds with heightened Bitcoin demand, as newcomers engage in and conduct transactions on the network. Conversely, in bearish phases, fees as a portion of the total miner earnings tend to decline. 

Over time as off-chain solutions like the Lightning Network begin to offer swift, cost-effective Bitcoin transfers, the layer one blockchain will not be used as often. 

Miner Revenue | Source: LookIntoBitcoin

Some argue that the escalating transaction fees, which presently account for 5% of miners’ revenue (illustrated above), will balance out the declining block rewards in the future. 

Can Bitcoin’s Hardcap Of 21 Million Be Changed?

Bitcoin’s hard cap of 21 million isn’t explicitly stated in a single code line. The protocol behind the monetary policy of Bitcoin emerges from its initial block reward combined with the halving schedule.

Initially, miners received 50 BTC for each block mined, and this reward halves every 210,000 blocks. By following this halving pattern, by the year 2140, over 99.99% of Bitcoins will be mined, and the reward will diminish to a point where it becomes negligible.

Source: Galaxy Research | Bitcoin Supply Issuance
Source: Galaxy Research | Bitcoin Supply Issuance

When an individual sums up the rewards from each of these halving periods, the total converges to the 21 million BTC cap. The built-in halving mechanism in Bitcoin’s code ensures that the minting of new Bitcoins will stop once this cap is reached.

By 2140, miners will no longer earn block rewards, relying solely on transaction fees as compensation. This design guarantees that there will never exceed 21 million Bitcoins in circulation. 

What Happens When Bitcoin Mining Rewards Will Be Vanished?

While the reward quantity has decreased over time, the soaring value of Bitcoin compensates for these reductions. Additionally, as Bitcoin becomes mainstream its transaction fees have also surged. 

Bitcoin, often hailed as ‘Digital Gold’, possesses an intrinsic quality of scarcity with its fixed supply cap of 21 million coins. This design evokes an economic elegance, as it emulates the limited availability of precious resources in the universe. However, what unfolds when the last Bitcoin has been mined and miners can no longer receive block rewards? Why will miners continue to secure the network? 

Here are some key reasons miners will continue to mine:

Transaction Fees

As miners pivot away from block rewards, the stakeholder who are deemed the lifeblood of the Bitcoin network, i.e. the miners will be incentivized primarily via transaction fees. This will ensure the network remains robust and continually processes transactions. It is expected that the transaction fee will be high enough in sats converted to the US dollar that the fee will be fair and justified.

Economic Renaissance

Bitcoin’s finite nature might further solidify its role as a store of value. With no more inflow of new coins, scarcity could induce an appreciation in value, making it even more sought-after as a hedge against traditional fiat systems.

Mining Resilience

Although mining rewards will cease, the expectation is that transaction volumes would have grown exponentially by then, making fee-based mining still profitable and sustainable.

Innovation and Evolution

The crypto landscape is dynamic. It is likely that new layers or solutions are emerging to make the post-reward era more efficient and economical for all participants.

The Debate On Altering Bitcoin’s Supply Cap

Technically, Bitcoin’s supply cap can be modified by changing its foundational code. While Bitcoin operates on software, any modifications necessitate consensus from developers, stakeholders, and the broader community. Achieving such a consensus would mean all nodes on the Bitcoin network adopting the proposed amendments. 

Ensuring unanimous acceptance is challenging due to Bitcoin’s inherent design to remain unchanged. Implementing these changes could lead to a hard fork. Which is a protocol change that redefines previously unauthorized actions as permissible. Ideally, all nodes would integrate the changes.

Conclusion

In contrast, a contentious scenario might emerge where only a subset supports the current 21 million BTC threshold. Miners and nodes resisting the modifications would persist with the existing Bitcoin protocol. 

This divergence could instigate a competitive rift, resulting in a contentious hard fork and potentially spawning another Bitcoin variant, reminiscent of Bitcoin Cash’s emergence. However, to date it is still unknown what will happen so far out in time. 

Whilst the future for Bitcoin is bright, it becomes difficult to forecast exactly what will happen to Bitcoin after all 21 million coins are in circulation. 

It is anticipated that by then miners would be well established and fully prepared for the next century. Even if a vision for Bitcoin seems clear today, the actual outcome may prove different.

“Being too far ahead of your time is indistinguishable from being wrong.” – Howard Marks

FAQs

How will Bitcoin miners profit after the last Bitcoin is mined?

After the final Bitcoin is mined, miners will profit from transaction fees, which will incentivize miners to continue validating and securing the network.

Could the Bitcoin network function without new Bitcoin being generated?

Without new Bitcoin generation, the network can still function, as transaction fees will motivate miners to maintain security and validate transactions efficiently.

What mechanisms ensure Bitcoin’s cap at 21 million?

Bitcoin’s hard cap is maintained by the halving process inbuilt within its protocol design, where block rewards reduce by half over time until they cease by 2140.

How might the Lightning Network impact Bitcoin's future transaction fees?

The Lightning Network could reduce Bitcoin’s transaction fees by enabling faster, off-chain transactions, potentially decreasing miners’ dependency on these fees.

Was this Article helpful? Yes No