Apple finds greener way to produce aluminium

By

Elysis produces greener aluminium that will someday be used in iPhones.
Apple helped found Elysis, an environmentally-friendly company that produces this greener aluminium that will someday go into iPhones.
Photo: Apple

Just a glance at an iPad or Apple Watch shows how much aluminum Apple uses. The traditional method for producing this material creates greenhouse gases. Apple brought together a pair of companies to develop a greener aluminium smelting process that releases oxygen instead.

The metal will someday go into iPhones, Macs, and other devices to make them easier on the environment.

Aluminium has been produced the same way  since 1886, when it was pioneered by Alcoa’s founder, Charles Hall. The process involves applying a strong electrical current to aluminum oxide ore to remove the oxygen. Even 130 years later,  the largest smelters use a very similar process that involves burning a carbon material, producing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

iPhones from greener aluminium

In 2015, three Apple engineers went looking for a cleaner way to mass produce this light-weight metal. The trio — Brian Lynch, Jim Yurko and Katie Sassaman — found that Alcoa Corporation had such a process, but needed a partner to make in commercially viable.

So Apple business development brought in Rio Tinto, a company experienced in smelting technology development. Together, they’ll improve and scale-up Alcoa’s process, which replaces the carbon with an advanced conductive material.

Alcoa and Rio Tinto formed a joint venture called Elysis to commercialize this patented process. It’s already functioning at an Alcoa Technical Center in Pennsylvania, and full-scale commercial operation should begin in 2024.

Apple ❤️ the environment

“Apple is committed to advancing technologies that are good for the planet and help protect it for generations to come,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We are proud to be part of this ambitious new project, and look forward to one day being able to use aluminum produced without direct greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing of our products.”

And this is hardly Apple’s only environmental effort. Last month, the company announced that 100 percent of its global operations are powered by renewable energy. This includes data centers, offices, and retail stores in 43 countries.

It also makes a robot that disassembles iPhones so their parts can be recycled.