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Apple Uses a Lot of Aluminum in Its Products. Now It’s Getting Into Green Aluminum Smelting

May 11, 2018, 11:02 AM UTC

Apple uses a lot of aluminum across its product line—it’s part of the company’s design ethos. Meanwhile, Apple (AAPL) is also a company that’s keen to show off its environmental credentials, for example by making sure that all its data centers run on renewable energy.

Problem is, aluminum smelting is not an environmentally friendly practice. So Apple is trying to fix that, together with metals giants Alcoa (AA) and Rio Tinto (RIO).

The aluminum companies are setting up a joint venture, called Elysis, to develop a new smelting process that they claim will eliminate all direct greenhouse gas emissions. Apple is putting in $10 million and offering technical support, but it won’t have a stake in Elysis.

The Canadian and Quebec government are each investing $47 million, and Alcoa and Rio Tinto are together putting in $43 million, together with intellectual property. Quebec will get a 3.5% equity stake, and Alcoa and Rio Tinto will evenly split the rest.

The new process, which Alcoa has been working on since 2009, uses an “advanced conductive material” instead of the carbon material that’s usually used to remove oxygen from aluminum oxide during the smelting process. While carbon-based smelting releases carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas—the new process releases oxygen.

By 2024, Elysis hopes to be selling the technology needed to retrofit existing smelters or build new, greener ones. The name isn’t just that of the company; it will also be used for the new process itself.

“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,” said Apple chief Tim Cook.

“Today, our history of innovation continues as we take aluminum’s sustainable advantage to a new level with the potential to improve the carbon footprint of a range of products from cars to consumer electronics,” said Alcoa CEO Roy Harvey.

Environmental impact aside, the timing of the Elysis announcement is interesting. It’s a big U.S.-Canadian aluminum tie-up, promising significant investments in both countries, at a time when the White House is still considering the imposition of new tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel.

That decision is due at the start of next month. Meanwhile, the Elysis announcement also came with a quote from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said it would “further strengthen the aluminium industry in North America.”