You can hardly go online these days or open a paper without reading a story about Bitcoin. The very first cryptocurrency, built on cryptographic technology introduced in 2009 by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, has had a rocky past with its value proving to be very volatile. However, in recent times the value has been consistently on the rise, achieving record levels again and again.
Backed by the blockchain - a peer to peer transaction validation system - Bitcoin has a number of features, besides its recent meteoric rise in value, that have made it so popular with many people.
The first is the fact that it is not linked to any government, country or bank so transactions can be conducted without the need for an intermediary. The second is the high level of security that transactions made using the cryptocurrency have. As each one has to be confirmed by thousands of other users it means it is, if not quite impossible, very hard to hack into the system.
As a result, it is certainly a currency with ever widening appeal, as well as growing legitimacy. One sure confirmation of this fact is that there is now Bitcoin trading on many major online platforms, bringing it firmly into line with other so-called fiat currencies like dollars, euros and sterling.
It is also fast gaining popularity as a useable currency in its own right. This began with certain online retailers deciding to accept it as a payment method and now even certain bricks and mortar retailers accept Bitcoin payments too. Bitcoin ATMs are also starting to spring up all around the world.
Despite these facts, there are still some who refuse to accept that Bitcoins should be regarded as a currency, instead opting to classify it as an asset or commodity. This is because of its lack of an official government or bank to back it. Rather, it is something that investors buy and sell speculating that its value will rise for them. The same critics also believe that the relatively slow speed that transactions can be carried out via the blockchain will only hinder its acceptance as a practical currency.
And then, of course, there are concerns about the currency's environmental impact. Studies suggest each single Bitcoin transaction can require as much energy as a villa would require in six or seven days. It is easy to see why environmentalists are increasingly concerned that such an energy-hungry new asset is growing in popularity.
Nevertheless, there is a solution for this problem - renewable energy sources.
Due to their variable nature, sometimes they don't produce enough electricity to meet grid demand, but other times, they can produce more power than is needed - a phenomenon that recently led to German grid operators paying customers to use excess power.
Renewables advocates hope emerging storage and smart grid technologies can help address the challenges presented by the variable nature of wind and solar farms, but could bitcoin provide an alternative approach? It should be possible to trigger energy intensive bitcoin mining right at the time when surplus renewable power is available, providing an efficient way of monetizing this excess clean energy.
If the environmental challenges can be addressed then the long term prospects for a market that could one day challenge the supremacy of the US dollar become even more attractive. A number of countries have already accepted it as legal tender including Europe's biggest economy, Germany. The high level of debt carried by America have also prompted nations to turn to currencies other than the dollar. For example, a recent gas supply deal between Russia and China is to be settled in Chinese renminbi.
So, with growing globalisation in virtually every sector, very soon it could be time for a currency with no national ties - and no exchange rate to affect deals done exclusively using it - and perhaps one day a negligible carbon footprint to really come into its own.
A sure sign that this is a very real possibility is the fact that more and more major banks are starting to show a serious interest not just in Bitcoin but also in the benefits that the blockchain system offers. So, no one can write off the chance that cryptocurrencies could well change the face not just of currency trading, but of the whole way the world does business in future.
Content contributed by Cian Jansen