Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Carbon-free computing and offset hedges

Taiwan-based VIA Technologies announced a new computer chip that claim's to be the world's first "carbon-free" processor. The company says that through power-saving technology and a corporate commitment to reducing environmental impact, they can offset all carbon-dioxide generated through the VIA C7-D's operation. (The company calculates that a processor's lifespan is just three years -- a figure that seems a tad low to those of us still cranking along with our vintage 2001 Pentium 4's.)

The company also announced a new green-computing rating system called the "TreeMark" rating that attempts to calculate how many trees it would take to sequester all the carbon dioxide associated with a given processor. According to VIA, its new C7-D requires just four trees, while Intel's Pentium D requires 31 trees and AMD's Athlon 64 requires 21. (Guess we won't see many TreeMark icons appearing on boxes with "Intel Inside" anytime soon...)

VIA intends to use a three-pronged strategy -- reforestation, alternative energy, and energy conservation -- to achieve its carbon offsets. Environmental group Carbon Footprint, Ltd., is working with the firm to undertake the project.

VIA doesn't say how and when it intends to implement the offsets, which could change the scope of its commitment considerably. For example, will they base their efforts on units sold, units produced, or units that reach consumers? And, where and when does the promise begin -- when the chip goes into production or when the consumer powers up?

The business model could create some interesting possibilities in an open carbon-trading market. If VIA invests in carbon offsets for, say, 10 million processors, but only sells 8 million processors, in theory it would have "excess" offsets to trade away. In that sense, unused carbon offsets could become a hedge for product sales themselves -- if you don't sell the chip, sell the carbon offsets and make a little back.

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