Bitcoin, the best-known and by far the largest cryptocurrency in the world, now has a place in the investment portfolios of many individuals and institutions. Could all those individuals and companies have a whole Bitcoin? In other words, how many bitcoins are there? In this article, we discuss crucial aspects of Bitcoin: the maximum supply, the mining scheme, the halving mechanism, and estimates of lost bitcoins.
How many bitcoins are there?
One of the most intriguing features of Bitcoin is its limited supply. There will never be more than 21 million BTC. Formally, the exact amount is 20,999,9999,9999,9769 BTC. This ceiling was baked into the code by Bitcoin's founder(s). This limitation creates scarcity, similar to precious metals such as gold. The idea behind this is that as Bitcoin becomes scarcer, its value could increase over time, provided demand continues to grow.
How are new bitcoins added?
Bitcoins are created through a process called "mining." Miners (a type of supercomputer) solve complex mathematical problems to verify transactions and thereby add new blocks to the blockchain. As a reward for their efforts, they receive newly created BTC, this is known as the "block reward." What is special about the mining scheme is that the reward is halved every 210,000 blocks, in an event called the "halving."
The halving mechanism
The halving mechanism is a built-in feature of Bitcoin that regulates the issuance of new BTC. With each halving, the reward for miners is halved. In 2009, a miner received 50 BTC per successfully mined block. In the most recent halving, in 2020, this reward went down to 6.25 BTC and the next halving is almost upon us: it is expected in April 2024.
Ultimately, the halving process will continue until the maximum supply of 21 million BTC is reached, expected around the year 2140. After this point, no new BTC will be created through mining. At that point, miners will only receive the transaction fees as a reward, also known as the Bitcoin fees, that people have sent with their transactions.
Available or circulating supply of Bitcoin
Currently, more than 19.6 million BTC have been released. But not all of this Bitcoin is available for immediate trading. Some investors are now holding onto their Bitcoin. Bitcoin cannot be bought until someone else sells it. Of course, the number of available BTC varies at any given time.
But an even more interesting aspect to look at is the amount of Bitcoin lost. A lost Bitcoin does not mean that that Bitcoin is "gone": it still exists. But possibly the owner does not have access and therefore it will never be available for trading. For example, in the case of loss of private keys, the death of owners who have not arranged their crypto estate, or deliberate burning by sending it to dead addresses.
It is difficult to determine an exact number of how many bitcoins have been lost because transactions are pseudonymous and there is no central authority that keeps track of ownership or lost coins. Back in 2020, Glassnode estimated that about 10% are likely lost forever. Other researchers came up with percentages as high as 30% of the total supply that may be lost. Not to worry: the more that is lost, the scarcer it is.
Bitcoin's maximum supply of 21 million coins and halving mechanism make it a unique digital asset with increasing scarcity. For now, there is more than enough BTC for sale and many billions in daily trading volume. So for those looking to get into Bitcoin, it is far from too late.
The information provided in our articles is intended solely for general informational purposes and does not constitute (financial) advice.