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Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba makes 9 datacenter energy patents available

Part of a Low Carbon Patent Pledge with Meta, Microsoft, and others

Chinese tech giant Alibaba is joining a coalition pledging to freely distribute energy efficient and green technologies, and has made nine patents available as part of the deal. 

The patents Alibaba is giving to the Low Carbon Patent Pledge (LCPP) mostly involve parts of its own in-house "soaking server" liquid immersion cooling system developed in 2015 that Alibaba claims reduced its datacenter energy expenditure by 70 percent.

Two of the nine patents were unrelated: one limits hard drive power consumption, and another was designed to improve hardware utilization rates. 

Founded on Earth Day last year by HPE, Microsoft, and Meta, the LCPP promotes low-carbon technologies. A total of 544 patents have been pledged from 10 companies, including Lenovo, UPS, and the three founding organizations. 

"We believe technology innovation is a key driver in transitioning to the low-carbon circular economy of the future. As a pioneer and global technology leader, we are committed to taking broader social responsibility," Alibaba Group VP and chair of the Sustainability Steering Committee Dr Chen Long said. 

Alibaba's green energy plan targets a 2030 deadline for the company to become carbon neutral, which allows for the purchase of offsets to balance a company's carbon footprint. More ambitiously, Alibaba Cloud Group has pledged to run entirely on green energy by 2030. 

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said in the company's 2021 Carbon Neutrality Action Report that Alibaba Cloud's ambitions include eliminating scope 3 emissions, which include anything emitted by third-party companies in Alibaba Cloud's supply chain. Like Google's carbon-free initiative, Alibaba Cloud's scope 3 goal will be extremely difficult to achieve. 

The first part of Alibaba Cloud's ambitions center around five of the company's hyperscale datacenters, which are being outfit with various clean energy technologies. At its Hangzhou and Zhangbei datacenters, a specialized chilled liquid coolant has been employed, and the latter site also became the first facility of its type in China to use heat-pump technology.

Alibaba is also looking at carbon management tools that can enhance energy trading schemes, launched its own chip that it said has a 50 percent higher energy efficiency ratio compared with other models and is exploring emerging technologies like pumping water for energy storage when renewable sources underperform.

Investments in green energy and sustainable tech have been growing, but it's worth noting that not all reports present data that hasn't been spun to look better than it actually is. Last year, Amazon said it saw a 19 percent increase in its carbon footprint, but made the argument that its "carbon intensity" measure was lower, meaning its increased footprint in relation to gross merchandise sales was actually an improvement. A scientist we spoke to at the time commented: "The bottom line is that they are polluting more this year than they did last year." ®

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