What is the future for blockchain and cryptocurrency?

Blockchain. Bitcoin. Ethereum. Non-fungible token. To many of us this list of words sounds like something from a computer game, but since 2007 some of these have become integral components of day-to-day financial transactions for millions around the world. 

People walking in a protest

The idea was born out of the global financial crisis that happened back around 2007, where a group of computer geeks and scientists realized that there's a problem with the way the central banks can print money and that causes inflation.


Paul Howard (Computer Science, 2001) is one of said computer geeks, who thanks to his studies at Nottingham was primed to take a real interest in what was then an emerging digital technology.

“It dawned on me that this thing called cryptocurrency I got shown by a friend was a combination of really great computer science that I'd learned from university and also a great way of moving assets and money and finances around the world in a way that wasn't being done.

“And so for me, it was a combination of an academic interest in it and a bit of work experience that made me think, actually, this is the kind of thing that could work out to be really useful in the world."


Key terms

Blockchain – A digital ledger of transactions that is duplicated and distributed across a network of computer systems.

Cryptocurrency – A digital currency, which is not reliant on banks to verify transactions.

Non-fungible token (NFT) – A non-fungible token (NFT) is a non-interchangeable unit of data that can be sold and traded. Types of NFT data units may be associated with digital files such as photos, videos, and audio.

Bitcoin – The most commonly-known and traded cryptocurrency.

Fast forward to 2022 and you have Jaguar Land Rover using blockchain technology to help secure its supply chain and institutions like Sotheby’s and the Worldwide Fund for Nature dipping their toes into the world of NFTs.

“Blockchain technology really is a giant ledger, an Excel spreadsheet in the sky. Cryptocurrency is one usage of that spreadsheet. So for example if I've made a dollar or a token, at any point on that spreadsheet there would only ever be one representation of where that token was on that iteration. Person A would own it at one point, person B would own it here, person A’s friend would own it there.

“That is one example of what we call an NFT. There is only one version of that available on the spreadsheet at one time. So Blockchain can identify an individual element on that spreadsheet. Similarly, it is also able to identify iterative elements on that spreadsheet.

“So, if we were, by way of an analogy, in a business servicing aeroplanes and in a jungle in the middle of the Sahara or Congo. We need to check an airline part to fit the engine on this aircraft is legitimate or perhaps has come from a factory. How can we do that? With a blockchain timestamp, you can see everybody who has handled that piece of the airplane in the past, and you can validate that it has come from a certain factory.”

Case study: University of Nottingham and Jaguar Land Rover

Jaguar Land Rover, with the help of academics at the University of Nottingham, has successfully trialled the use of secure blockchain technology to enable full traceability within its automotive leather supply chain.

Read more

But for you or I is blockchain and cryptocurrency going to become part of our everyday lives? Paul thinks it is possible.

“Cryptocurrency is another application of this technology. The real-world fiduciary system is built on trust. We believe that a £10 note has value because other people believe it has value and cryptocurrency operates in a similar dynamic. We're now dealing with a decentralised network of people across the world who all believe in the system, much like people do physical cash.”

“Fast forward five years where you'd be able to just spend some of these mainstream currencies in a shop and buy your groceries, I believe it’s already happening. It is just an alternative way of making a digital transaction.

Did you know? UNNC-NFTZ Blockchain Laboratory

Over on our Ningbo campus in China we have our very own blockchain laboratory. Established in 2019 the UNNC-NFTZ Blockchain Laboratory aims to accelerate the development of the blockchain industry in the Ningbo Free Trade Zone, enhance its ability for the scientific and technological support of the blockchain industry and promote integrated development of blockchain technology. It also looks to advance the research and development of blockchain-based technologies for use in business, finance and economics.

The laboratory aims to build itself into a demonstration base for district-school co-operation, expand its Research and Development team in the field of blockchain, artificial intelligence and big data analysis and build a public service platform for the application and development of financial technology.

This is also now making waves in the art industry with digital pieces being sold for millions of pounds as NFTs. The artist Beeple’s Everydays – The First 5000 Days selling for an astronomical $69 million in March 2021. Bored Apes is the other side of the (crypto)coin where 10,000 NFTs of cartoon monkeys are being bought and sold for millions by the likes of Eminem and Justin Bieber.

“Bored Apes is such a small part of what's happening in this world. It grabbed so much attention which can be frustrating, but also part of the joy of it is that we're trying to educate people as well.

“I think for the NFT world, if we look at that in isolation, you've got these pictures and JPEGs of dogs and apes and heaven knows what. And then you've got truly fine art, of the likes sold at Digital Art Fair, which, if you've seen some of the work by Refik is truly spectacular and mesmerizing.

“Blockchain is being used not just to do the transaction, but also to validate and give provenance. It’s a central database that we can all look to that says 'so-and-so owns this'. By giving it provenance and saying ‘this is the actual one that is worth this much money’, you're tying an asset on a blockchain to a number.”

It certainly seems as though - whether being used to purchase a digital monkey or prove the origins of a part in a supply chain - the presence of these evolving digital technologies is going to grow far beyond the realm of the 'computer geeks'.