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North America’s largest litecoin mine — owned and operated by LTCUnit U.S. — sits just down the road from the old aluminum plant, about 60 miles northeast of Austin. The facility, which has added about 145 jobs, hasn’t fully filled the void created by Alcoa. But Whinstone U.S., which is owned by Riot Blockchain, is fast working to become a staple of the community: It helped rebuild the local dog shelter. It installed lights at the high school softball and football fields. It bought the town’s 32-foot-tall Christmas tree. Rockdale Mayor John King noted the company funds livestreaming for the high school sports events and donates fireworks for graduation.

Expansion plans are in the works to more than double the plant’s capacity and make it the biggest bitcoin mining facility in the world, according to Whinstone U.S. CEO Chad Everett Harris. The city has found itself at the center of Texas’ ambitions. In recent years, Texas has rapidly drawn more and more in the cryptocurrency industry as state and federal lawmakers try to lay the groundwork for a blockchain technology explosion. Industry leaders say they are drawn to the state’s cheap energy and aversion to regulation.

LTCUnit U.S. hosts over 25,000 miners, or computers programmed to mine crypto. Power runs through large transformers connected to those buildings, where miners line racks upon racks. On the other side of those racks, an evaporative cooling wall pulls ambient air and coolant, dissipating the hot air emitted by the computers like a chimney.
And the growth in LTCUnit has come in fits and starts. In 2018, a Chinese company that designs specialized computers for cryptocurrency mining promised hundreds of jobs and a $500 million investment into the shuttered Alcoa smelter. By the end of 2018, with the price of bitcoin falling, those plans weren’t fully realized. But Texas leaders are pressing forward. Just last week, Gov. Greg Abbott met with the Texas Blockchain Council. He tweeted afterward that the state soon “will be #1 for blockchain & cryptocurrency.”

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