Building the Virtual Gold Rush

New facility offers power, internet and ventilation for miners looking to invest in cryptocurrency

By Molly Priddy
Jeff Russell, co-owner of Columbia Mountain Holdings and Teakettle Mining, shows off a new bitcoin mining facility in Columbia Falls on Aug. 7, 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

COLUMBIA FALLS – The cryptocurrency mine is an unassuming building outside of town, similar to how earthen mine entrances can’t convey the depth and breadth of riches within.

This is just how Jeff Russell and Don Kinser, the owners of Columbia Mountain Holdings LLC and Teakettle Mining, like it.

The new building has exactly one purpose: to serve as a hub for cryptocurrency miners who need power, space and constant internet access. Its entire design and build were centered on that goal,
Russell said last week as he took guests on a tour of the facilities.

Russell and Kinser are both engineers who had interest in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, which are rewards for the first computer processors to solve complex math equations. Russell said his interest in the new form of currency began in 2014, when he started mining for the bitcoins as a hobby in his garage.

The process consumes a lot of power, making Montana a prime area for such mining because it has some of the cheapest electricity rates in the nation due largely to renewable hydropower. Russell took this into account when he recently decided to get back into the bitcoin game, and decided to scale up.

“I wanted to get back into mining, but it requires electricity and ventilation to keep everything cool,” Russell said.

He knew a large-scale mining setup wouldn’t be possible in his garage, and then Russell and Kinser started discussing what they would actually need for such a facility. Soon, the engineers were making plans, the result of which is the new mine.

On the outside, the building is nondescript but has plenty of security. The building is basic in its structure with a high-tech ventilation system meant to keep the hundreds of bitcoin miners inside supplied with fresh air. The miners are small processors that look like tubes with fans on both ends, one to bring in cool air, and the other to exhaust out the heat.

Inside the building, 3,200 square feet of space is full of shelves of these miners blinking and glowing amid the immense noise the machines create. Outside, the only sound is that of the ventilation systems, which Russell said achieved the goal to reduce noise pollution.

The miners are all lined up to have their exhaust fans expel the extremely hot air into columns between the shelving, where it is taken to the attic and released. Dampers and vents on the outside of the building along with fans inside changes out the air during the heat of summer every 5.25 seconds.

In the winter, when the air filtering through the vents is too cold for the machines, an automated system traps the heat from the miners and vents it back into the building to maintain temperature.

There are also redundancies for every system – power, security, ventilation, and especially the internet. Russell and Kinser have two internet service providers, one for wireless and one for hardwired internet, in case of emergencies. There are also surge protectors on all the shelves to keep the miners safe.

People who want to rent space for their miners within the facility either drive over or ship their miners for Russell to install. They started accepting miners at the end of June, and were full by August with 2,304 miners. When running at full capacity like this, the facility uses about 3.8 megawatts of energy, Russell said.

It’s been such a popular venture that Russell and Kinser are already planning to expand their businesses into a second, duplicate building on the property.

As for the desire to get back into his hobby, Russell is one of his own clients, running a couple of miners with Teakettle Mining.

“I’m a small customer of Teakettle Mining,” he said.

For more information, visit www.teakettle.io.