The easiest way to think of Bitcoin is as digital gold. Similar to gold, Bitcoin is a scarce resource that can be traded and used as a store of value. However, unlike traditional currencies, Bitcoin is not controlled by governments, instead Bitcoin is run by thousands of computers distributed around the world.
As Bitcoin becomes increasingly popular, there are many questions revolving around the token’s supply. Unlike traditional currencies, Bitcoin has a cap on the amount of currency that can ever be in circulation.
After this limit is reached, no more new Bitcoin will be produced. As of right now, there are 19 million tokens in circulation with a maximum of 21 million. However, there are many nuances to these numbers. It is important for any Bitcoin investor to understand the coin’s supply system.
Supply of Bitcoin
New Bitcoin is created when a miner verifies a transaction using computing power. These Bitcoin are given out in the form of block rewards. However, these block rewards get smaller after a certain amount of Bitcoin is mined.
Bitcoin block rewards are given every 10 minutes. After every 210,000 blocks, or approximately 4 years, the amount of the block rewards is halved. In 2013, the block reward was 50, but after halving it became 25. 4 years later in 2017, the block reward fell again to 12.5. The latest halving was in May 2020. This made the current block reward 6.25 BTC.
The major benefit of halving is that it creates a predictable supply. Users know exactly how many Bitcoin will ever be in circulation. Users can also know when the next halving will occur as it is based on time. Halving also increases the value of Bitcoin. It lowers the inflation and increases the value of each token.
In 2024, the block reward will halve again to 3.125 BTC. Essentially, the amount of new Bitcoin created continues to fall until the maximum supply is reached. However, the maximum supply will not be reached until 2140. This will be the time when the lock reward is so small that it is essentially 0. Once all 21 million tokens have been given out in the form of block rewards, miners will be rewarded in transaction fees. This allows minders to earn rewards for mining without having to increase the supply.
As of right now, 19 million Bitcoin have been mined since 2009. A large majority of Bitcoin’s supply is already in circulation. However, not all of these tokens are usable. Many coins are trapped in wallets whose owners have lost the private key needed to retrieve them.
Pro Tip: Taking care of your private key is of the utmost importance, which is why a good hardware wallet like the Ledger Nano X can be a great investment in security.
How Many Bitcoin Have Been Lost?
One of the major downfalls of cryptocurrency is that it can be lost forever if holders do not take proper security measures. The amount of lost Bitcoin can be tracked by filtering through all wallets to see the last time they were used. If a wallet has not been touched in several years, the Bitcoin in the wallet may be considered to be lost.
It is difficult to determine how many Bitcoin have been lost, as it is not always clear whether a Bitcoin has been permanently lost or is simply being held by someone who is not using it.
As of January 2023, it is estimated that up to 20% of all Bitcoin is considered lost. Perhaps the largest way that Bitcoin is lost is by those who bought large amounts of Bitcoin early on and forgot about the wallet. After realizing that they have a fortune in a wallet, users of certain wallets may have a limited amount of password attempts before the wallet is locked forever.
For example, a software engineer named Stefan Thomas reported he had 7,002 Bitcoin in a wallet that he acquired years ago. However, he only had 10 password attempts and was unable to access the Bitcoin from his IronKey hardware wallet. If he had been able to access the wallet, it would currently be worth over $450 million.
This certainly is not the only person to lose a fortune. Hundreds of others and billions of dollars have been permanently lost due to this.
Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin
The creator of Bitcoin, the anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, mined around 1 million tokens during the early stages of the project. This is worth over $64 billion. However, they may never sell these tokens as it could reveal their identity.
Nakamoto's true identity has never been revealed, and the individual or group behind the pseudonym has remained anonymous. This makes it hard for governments and individuals to aim their crosshairs. Liberty Dollar, a private currency created in 1998, was shut down after the FBI and secret service found its creator guilty of creating a “private coin or currency system to compete with the official coinage and currency of the United States.” If Satoshi Nakamoto were to reveal their identity, they could face a similar issue.
Because of this, Satoshi Nakamoto may never sell their Bitcoin. This would essentially make their supply of 1 million tokens, or more than 5% of all Bitcoin currently in circulation, lost forever.
Bitcoin Supply on Exchanges
The chart below shows the percentage of Bitcoin held on exchanges in relation to the price. For a while, almost none of the supply was on exchanges and was instead held in wallets. As exchanges became a more popular medium to buy and sell Bitcoin, the amount of the supply on exchanges increased.
Bitcoin can be held in exchanges in a variety of ways. On decentralized exchanges (DEX) users can provide liquidity by staking their tokens. In doing this, they lock their position for a certain period of time.
On centralized exchanges, users typically do not actually own the tokens in their portfolio. The exchange has custody over these tokens.
As of right now, approximately 13% of the Bitcoin supply is held in exchanges.
How Many Bitcoin are There, Actually?
To find the actual amount of Bitcoin in circulation, you take the current supply and subtract the amount that has been lost. It is estimated that 15%, or around 2,850,000, has been lost. The current supply is about 19 million. This means that there are approximately 16,150,000 Bitcoin in circulation.
If Satoshi Nakamoto never sells their position, then their position would also be considered lost. If this is true, then there are approximately 15,150,000 Bitcoin in circulation.
Either way, the amount of tokens given in the total supply is not entirely accurate. Because tokens can be lost forever, the amount of Bitcoin actually in circulation is less than the amount listed as the circulating supply.
Where to Buy Bitcoin
If you are looking to buy Bitcoin and own a portion of the supply, a centralized exchange is most likely the easiest and quickest way to do so. There are a few centralized exchanges that stand out due to their emphasis on education, ease of use and security.
eToro, crypto.com and Webull are all great options for those looking to purchase Bitcoin. To open an account, you must provide an email and password and then enter in some basic personal information. After that, you can fund your account and purchase BTC.
While all of these are great options, they are all slightly different. To help decide which exchange is best for you, make sure to check out benzinga’s guide to the best crypto trading platforms.
Is it Too Late to Buy Bitcoin?
While Bitcoin’s supply is mostly in circulation, this does not necessarily mean that it is too late to buy. Bitcoin is by far the largest cryptocurrency. Governments and institutions are just beginning to use Bitcoin. This could be a catalyst for even further price increases. However, cryptocurrency is extremely volatile and all investments should be made with risks in mind.
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