The production of high-end electronics puts a great toll on the environment, whether it be through the excavation of specialized resources or the environmental impact of the byproducts big companies produce when building and shipping devices.
Apple is one of the largest electronic device producers in the world, and they have announced a new investment with two Canadian companies to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from many of their products. The massive tech giant is partnering with two aluminum companies based in Quebec, Rio Tinto and Alcoa, to optimize production and wholly eliminate greenhouse gas emission associated with primary aluminum production through electrolysis.
Apple is investing $10 million (all figures USD) into the new initiative, while Rio Tinto and Alcoa along with the government of Quebec and Canada will invest a combined $134 million, bringing the total investment into the new clean production method up to $144 million.
“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.”
This search for a better way to mass produce aluminum started decades ago, but Apple only got involved three years ago. The new method will result in Oxygen being the only byproduct. Right now, several Apple devices such as iPhones, iPads and Macbooks are all made with aluminum and full-scale commercialization of this method is planned to roll out by 2024.
“Through this alliance and this unprecedented combined effort, Rio Tinto and Alcoa are helping Canada’s aluminum industry to reposition itself as a global leader in low-carbon aluminum production,” said Jean Simard, president and CEO of the Aluminium Association of Canada. “Combined with the use of hydropower, Canada’s future carbon-free aluminum production will re-define the sustainable production standard, while creating value in a low-carbon world.”
Aluminum had been produced the same way since 1886, involving the application of an electrical current to alumina to remove the oxygen. That process involves a carbon burning process that produces greenhouse gases. Apple’s team had consulted with several startups and massive plants to find a new way of improving this method. They found their answer in Alcoa, who then formed a joint venture with Rio Tenco called Elysis. Their new method replaces carbon with an advanced conductive material, creating the world’s first carom-free smelted aluminum, shown in the header above.
This public investment by Apple is a rare move for the company. Though the tech giant often spends money to improve their manufacturing processes, they do not often widely share that information.
The Canadian aluminum industry currently boasts the smallest carbon footprint in the world for the industry.