Aluminum has been available for more than a century, and in that time it has conquered the world in a stormy way. It is certainly an important metal from an economic point of view and therefore has many application areas. Also for Apple, it is an important material in many of the most popular products. But it has been produced in the same way for more than 130 years, and that has to change now.
Apple strives to reduce the environmental impact of its products through innovation. That is why the company helped accelerate the development of this technology. Apple has also agreed with both aluminum companies and with the governments of Canada and Quebec to jointly invest a total of $ 144 million in research and development.
The announcement in Saguenay, Quebec, in the presence of the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Quebec, Philippe Couillard, and Apple Senior Director Sarah Chandler, was the result of decades of research and development. Apple became involved in this process in 2015 when three technical experts went in search of a cleaner, better method for large-scale aluminum production.
Apple engineers Brian Lynch, Jim Yurko and Katie Sassaman visited large aluminum companies, independent laboratories and start-ups all over the world. And they found the solution at Alcoa Corporation.
The mass production of aluminum has been going on since 1886 according to the same procedure introduced by the founder of Alcoa, Charles Hall. In the process, alumina is stripped of oxygen by using a high electric current. Both in the original experiments of Hall and in the largest smelter of this moment, the carbon material is used that burns during the process, resulting in greenhouse gases.
Lynch, Yurko, and Sassaman discovered at Alcoa a completely new process in which instead of carbon an advanced conductive material is used, so that no carbon dioxide is released but oxygen. The potential benefits for the environment were enormous and Alcoa needed a partner to adjust the production process in the short term.
David Tom, Maziar Brumand and Sean Camacho of Apple Business Development added Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto is an important global player and has a lot of experience with the development of melting technology and international sales and commercialization.
The two aluminum companies set up the joint venture Elysis, which will further develop this technology for large-scale production and commercialization, with the first sale scheduled for 2024.
Apple also continues to provide technical support. This patent-pending technology is already in use at the Alcoa Technical Center near Pittsburgh, and more than $ 30 million is invested in the United States for this project.
Direct emissions of greenhouse gases
If this new method is further developed and used more widely, the direct emission of greenhouse gases in the melting process can be reduced to 0 anywhere in the world. This would greatly support the closely interwoven aluminum and manufacturing sector in Canada and the United States.
The message follows Apple’s announcement last month that all of the company’s buildings are running at 100 percent green power and that 23 Apple vendors have agreed to do the same. In the context of the endeavor to make all Apple products from recycled or renewable materials, Apple has also introduced Daisy a robot that can dismantle iPhones more efficiently to recover valuable materials for advanced recycling.