Apple partners with mining firms on zero-carbon aluminium smelting

Technology giant Apple has announced a new partnership with industrial firms Alcoa Corporation and Rio Tinto Aluminium to accelerate commercialisation of new technology that eliminates all greenhouse gas emissions from the smelting process of aluminium.

Apple started working with the two firms, which announced the new joint venture called Elysis on Thursday (10 May), back in 2015 and has helped create a $144m investment pool alongside the Governments of Canada and Quebec to commercialise the zero-carbon smelting process.

Aluminium represents almost a quarter of Apple’s manufacturing emissions. The technology giant and Rio Tinto helped verify that Alcoa’s process, which replaces carbon with an advanced conductive material, releases oxygen instead of carbon dioxide. Apple confirmed to edie that no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases are directly emitted from the smelting process.

Apple is yet to set a date for use of the aluminium in its products, but the company’s chief executive Tim Cook claimed it would one day be incorporated.

“Apple is committed to advancing technologies that are good for the planet and help protect it for generations to come,” Cook said. “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.”

Elysis will work to develop the technology further, in line with large-scale commercialisation planned for 2024. The technology is currently in use at Alcoa’s technical centre near Pittsburgh and Apple will continue to provide technical support to the development.

Apple told edie that the smelting process could eventually be used for other applications and metals, but that the joint venture will focus solely on commercialising the technology for retrofits of existing smelters or the construction of new ones.

Supply chain transition

With all of Apple’s global facilities now powered with 100% renewable energy, the company is attempting to push sustainability into its supply chain.

In 2017, around 77% of Apple’s suppliers participated in an energy efficiency programme, working on measures such as lighting upgrades and motion sensors, processed heating and cooling, and compressed air. As a result, supply chain emissions fell by 320,00 metric tonnes last year.

In its bid to make a low-carbon transition, Apple and its suppliers are almost three-quarters of the way along a path to purchasing more than 4GW clean energy worldwide by 2020. Already, 16 suppliers have made 100% clean energy commitments for Apple production.  

The company recently evolved its old recycling robot, Liam, into Daisy – a super-powered AI machine capable of recovering valuable materials from up to 200 devices an hour.

Matt Mace

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