Aluminum is abundant in more things than just soda cans; the metal is used in everything from transportation to power lines to smartphones. It’s an incredibly important metal in today’s world, but the problem is that mining, melting, and casting is a carbon-intense process, accounting for 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
To cut down on its aluminum-associated carbon footprint, Apple announced last week that it bought the first-ever commercial batch of carbon-free aluminum from Elysis, a Montreal-based joint venture between Alcoa Corporation and Rio Tinto Aluminum, two of the world’s largest aluminum suppliers.
For more than 130 years, aluminum has been produced the same way, first by refining bauxite ore to get aluminum oxide, and then smelting the aluminum oxide to release pure aluminum. It’s during this smelting process, which passes an electric current through large blocks of carbon called anodes, that carbon burns, thus creating carbon dioxide.
Elysis says it has created a carbon-free smelting technology that replaces those carbon anodes with a ceramic anode, which releases oxygen instead of CO2. Calling it carbon-free might be an overstatement since it still requires quite a lot of energy to do the whole process, but it’s certainly better than previous methods.
Apple had exclusive rights to the aluminum because it invested in the development of this technology, but Elysis will continue to develop its aluminum technology for large scale production so that more companies can have access to it by 2024.