- Apple is investing in a new joint venture with aluminum giants Alcoa and Rio Tinto.
- Apple uses a lot of aluminum in its products.
- The joint venture is called Elysis, and its focus will be on working to scale and commercialize a new aluminum manufacturing process that doesn’t generate greenhouse gases.
Apple’s most famous products are made out of aluminum – its iconic MacBooks, iPhones, and iPads are clad in the metal, often carved out of a single block.
The company’s prodigious appetite for aluminum is a big reason why Apple announced on Thursday that it’s investing just over $10 million ($13 million Canadian dollars) into a major new joint venture called Elysis that’s going to try a completely new method for producing industrial quantities of aluminum.
Apple is teaming up with Alcoa and Rio Tinto Aluminum to develop the new method. Altogether, the three giants, plus the Canadian government and Quebec, are investing $144 million in total to develop the technology. If all goes well, the process could go on sale beginning in 2024.
The big advantage to the new technique, according to the companies, is that it’s much more environmentally friendly. When it works, the new process eliminates greenhouse gas emissions from the process. Apple is interested because it uses so much aluminum, as well as its corporate focus on clean energy. Apple will provide technical support to Elysis.
Canadians are excited because the venture will be based in Quebec. In the statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it “will create and maintain thousands of jobs for Canadians.”
Apple said in a release that its involvement with the new process started in 2015, when Apple engineers came across the new technology at Alcoa in Pittsburgh when looking for a cleaner way to mass-produce aluminum. They were able to get Rio Tinto on board, and three years later, the three companies have formed a joint venture.
If it’s effectively commercialized, it would represent one of the biggest changes to the aluminum production process since Alcoa founder Charles Hall started experimenting with small-batch smelting at his parents’ house in Oberlin, Ohio in the 1880s.
Here’s how Apple explains it in its release:
After meeting with the biggest aluminum companies, independent labs, and startups around the world, Apple engineers Brian Lynch, Jim Yurko, and Katie Sassaman found their answer at Alcoa Corporation.
Aluminum has been mass 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 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.
Lynch, Yurko and Sassaman learned that Alcoa had designed a completely new process that replaces that carbon with an advanced conductive material, and instead of carbon dioxide, it releases oxygen. The potential environmental impact was huge, and to help realize it quickly, Alcoa needed a partner.
Apple CEO Tim Cook called the project “ambitious,” and said in a statement that he looks “forward to one day being able to use aluminum produced without direct greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing of our products.”