Reykjavik, Iceland - Marco Streng first visited Iceland to solve a simple problem. His bitcoin computers were using more energy and the remote North Atlantic island had massive amounts of electricity at inexpensive rates.
He travelled no more than three kilometres from the airport terminal to an abandoned airstrip built by allied forces in World War II.
This was in 2014 and the barren, windswept ground then seemed like an unlikely place for a financial district.
The strip is now where international companies "mine" for bitcoins and other virtual currencies. Powerful computers, stacked inside long and grey warehouses, use more electricity than all Icelandic homes combined, according to a local energy firm.
"People don't give me a funny look any more when I explain my plans," Streng told Al Jazeera.
Raised in Bavaria, Germany, the 29 year old was a maths prodigy on a glowing academic track until he began collecting digital coins. Being a bitcoin entrepreneur is the only job Streng has ever held.
The new industry's relatively sudden growth is raising serious concerns for its environmental impact.
Iceland's energy comes from hydroelectric dams and geothermal power plants, creating electricity without carbon emissions.Marco Streng, a German national, created the world's largest cloud bitcoin mining company [Egill Bjarnason/Al Jazeera]
But this "green" energy is not entirely environmentally friendly. Hydroelectric dams sink untouched land under water and alter rivers and waterfalls.
Geothermal power plants are built over natural hot spring areas, spoiling the unique landscape.
"Iceland still has one of the biggest wilderness areas in Europe," said environmentalist Tomas Gudbjartsson, protesting the expansion of energy infrastructure. "We will simply destroy these areas if we continue."
Energy demand has developed because of the soaring cost of producin...