By Anders Lorenzen
The company says they have played a key role in a joint project which they believe could help change global manufacturing. They have joined forces with the aluminium giants Alcoa Corporation and Rio Tinto Aluminium to commercialise a patented technology that eliminates direct greenhouse gas emissions from the traditional smelting process, a key step in aluminium production. This is believed to be a revolutionary advancement in the manufacturing of one of the world’s most widely used metals. The partnership also includes a combined investment of $144 million towards future research and development by the Canadian central government and the regional government of Quebec.
Not only is aluminium a key element in many Apple products but it is also used in a host of other industries such as transportation, construction, electrical infrastructure, and other consumer products, just to mention a few. Therefore drastically reducing emissions in the aluminium production process could be hugely important.
Apple says they have long searched for methods to reduce the CO2 impact from producing aluminium, and actually started that search in 2015. The company says that after meeting with the biggest aluminium companies, independent labs and startups around the world, their engineers Brian Lynch, Jim Yurko and Katie Sassaman found their answer at Alcoa Corporation. The engineers learned that Alcoa had designed a completely new process that replaces the carbon sources involved in the process with an advanced conductive material that, instead of carbon dioxide, releases oxygen. The potential environmental impact was huge. Apple says to help realise it quickly, Alcoa needed a partner.
That was when Apple brought Rio Tinto to the table. They believed the mining giant had a robust worldwide presence as well as deep experience in smelting technology development and international sales and commercialisation.
Together, the two aluminium companies formed a joint venture called Elysis, which will work to develop this technology further for larger scale production and commercialisation, with a package planned for sale beginning in 2024. Apple says they will continue to provide technical support as well. The patent-pending technology is already in use at the Alcoa Technical Centre, outside Pittsburgh, and this project will invest more than $30 million in the United States.
The tech giant says if fully developed and implemented, this new method has the potential to eliminate direct greenhouse gas emissions from the smelting process around the world, strengthening the closely integrated Canada-United States aluminium and manufacturing industries.
Aluminium has been mass produced in the same way since 1886 when the process was pioneered by Alcoa’s founder, Charles Hall. The process involves applying a strong electrical current to alumina, which removes oxygen. Both Hall’s original experiments and today’s largest smelters use a carbon material that burns during the process, producing greenhouse gases.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said: “Apple is committed to advancing technologies that are good for the planet and help protect it for generations to come. We are proud to be part of this ambitious new project, and look forward to one day being able to use aluminium produced without direct greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing of our products.”
Apple’s did not waste any time loading their other green credentials, also announcing that last month all of its facilities are now powered with 100 percent clean energy and 23 of its suppliers have committed to do the same. Additionally, as part of the company’s goal to eventually make all of its products from recycled or renewable materials, it debuted Daisy, a robot that can more efficiently disassemble iPhones to recover valuable parts for future high tech recycling.