Different firms specialized in the crypto world analyzed statistical information to determine an approximate amount of lost bitcoins.
As happens in “the real world” with gold bars lost at sea, bitcoins can disappear from the Internet.
Mined digital assets could not be available or get lost for different reasons and, this way, the effort and time invested in mining are lost too.
Currently, more than 1.6 million bitcoins have been lost forever. This happens due to duplicate transactions, unclaimed rewards or thefts. This is according to a recent Coin Metrics report.
The analysis of this firm showed the world’s largest cryptocurrency might be more scarce than most people think. The report offers a conservative estimate but it shows that Bitcoin is getting scarcer with each day.
This study also explains that Bitcoin could be even more limited than users think it is. Something like this means that the amount of bitcoins is smaller than what users believe.
Bitcoin’s first block, which is known as the genesis block, contains a transaction with a 50 BTC output which was not included in Bitcoin’s ledger, whilst the only two instances of duplicate transactions on the network resulted in 100 BTC being removed from the blockchain.
Nearly 182 bitcoins were probably lost by block. Just over 3 BTC were embedded into the blockchain as messages, making them useless forever.
The digital forensics firm Chainalysis calculates that 3.79 or 2.78 million bitcoins are already gone. This represents 17% to 23% of existing bitcoins. The company used statistical sampling to determine the amount lost.
An important amount of coins was sent to fake addresses to burn them. In fact, three of these addresses currently hold over 2.200 BTC. Despite these assets are not lost forever, they are unlikely to be recovered.
There is another type of bitcoin that can get lost forever. According to Coin Metrics, these are “zombie coins”, which are those digital coins that have been inactive for a long time.
In this sense, since July 2020 about 1.5 million BTC have not been used and, for that reason, they would be part of the “zombie coins” group.
The study indicates another group of digital coins that often get lost. These ones are known as “stolen coins”. But these coins won’t return to their owners. As the structure of bitcoins records makes it easy to trace these stolen coins, the thief won’t introduce them back into circulation to avoid risks of being identified.
Also, almost 200,000 BTC were lost in two big thefts alone. In this way, 80,000 BTC were stolen from MtGox in March 2011, while about 120,000 went missing from Bitfinex in August 1016.
Although there are only 182 probably lost bitcoins, the report assumes that at least 1.6 million users are probably lost forever to save materials.
The “Mined Coins” group reflects bitcoin mined in 2017, while transactional refers to those that spent them during the last year. The category of “Strategic Investors” (for those who have held their BTC for 1-2 years) represents a small share of the losses.
Probably, more bitcoins will be lost in the future, but the rate would be lower considering that BTC now is so valuable and users will be vigilant to where their bitcoins are so the number of bitcoins lost will reduce.
By María Rodríguez