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Apple bets on startup to produce aluminum more cleanly

The iPhone maker is going greener.

aluminum-picture

Apple has invested in Elysis, a joint venture of Alcoa and Rio Tinto. 

Apple

Apple's is betting on a new, greener aluminum technology.

The company has invested 13 million Canadian dollars (about $10 million) in Elysis, a joint venture created by aluminum giants Alcoa and Rio Tinto. Elysis has discovered what it calls a breakthrough in how aluminum is created and the most significant innovation in the aluminum industry in over a century.

Aluminum smelting, which transforms aluminum oxide into useable aluminum, is normally a big cause of pollution, but the new technology that will be developed and distributed through Elysis eliminates all greenhouse gas emissions from the traditional smelting process and produces pure oxygen.

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The companies unveiled the new joint venture during an event Thursday in Quebec, Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Alcoa CEO Roy Harvey and Rio Tinto Aluminum CEO Alf Barrios all attended the launch, as well as Sarah Chandler, Apple's senior director of environmental initiatives. Elysis will be based in Montreal.

This venture is the latest in a broad set of steps Apple has taken to become more environmentally friendly. It's a reversal from the past pressure it faced for the way its devices are manufactured and recycled. The improvements include the sourcing of its materials and the treatment of its labor force, as well as making all of its operations run entirely on renewable energy. It also has pushed its partners to become more environmentally friendly and has looked into new materials for its devices.

"Apple is committed to advancing technologies that are good for the planet and help protect it for generations to come," CEO Tim Cook said in a statement.

In 2014, Cook said he doesn't "consider the bloody ROI" on issues like the environment, accessibility and worker safety, referring to the return on investment. The broader corporate world is also making an effort to promote a greener way of living.

Aluminum is used in a wide variety of products, from cars to computers. Anyone who's watched an Apple product video has heard Design Chief Jony Ive's British accent touting the virtues of the ah-loo-MIN-ium in devices like the Apple Watch.

Along with its investment in Elysis, Apple also will give the joint venture technical support around areas like supply chain operations.

Canada and Quebec both invested $60 million Canadian dollars in Elysis, while Alcoa and Rio Tinto will invest $55 million in Canadian dollars over the next three years.

The new smelting technology was developed by Alcoa and has been used at a factory outside Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, since 2009. The company holds 40 patents related to the technology, and it has produced about 700 metric tons of aluminum through the process so far. The next phase, where Rio Tinto comes in, is scaling the technology to produce it in higher volumes.

Rio Tinto brings expertise in smelting technology development and commercialization, with a big sales force to push it with customers. The new joint venture will employ 100 people.

Along with being environmentally friendly, Elysis' technology lowers operating costs by 15 percent and increases production by the same percentage.

Elysis expects to offer the technology to the market by 2024.

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