Apple helps discover new technique that could make aluminium for iPhones and other products without damaging the environment

The discovery could be the biggest breakthrough in a century, and is the culmination of decades of work

Andrew Griffin
Friday 11 May 2018 08:01 BST
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Apple has helped find a new way of making aluminium that could revolutionise the way that iPhones and other products are made.

The new technique completely eliminates greenhouse gases from the smelting process, in a discovery that it says is a "revolutionary" change in the way the key metal is made.

Aluminium is one of the most important materials used by Apple: it is what just about every Apple product's case is made of. But that is a problem because Apple is committed to being as green as possible, and making the metal does a considerable amount of damage to the Earth and the environment.

Now Apple has worked with other metal companies to develop the proprietary technique, which allows for the generation of "green" aluminium for the first ever time.

“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 aluminium produced without direct greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing of our products.”

The smelting still relies on energy that could potentially be generated using the burning of fossil fuels. But it gets rid of the greenhouse gases that are usually created by the process itself.

Aluminium has been mass produced in much the same way since it was 1886. That method was pioneered by Charles Hall, the founder of metals company Alcoa, whch along with Rio Tinto and Apple helped develop the process.

Ever since then, aluminium has been made by hitting alumina with a strong electric current, removing the oxygen. But the material used to do that burns in the process, and releases considerable amounts of greenhouse gases.

The new technique, discovered by Alcoa, uses a completely new process that replaces the carbon with a different, secret material. That material produces only oxygen when it burns, vastly limiting the environmental impact.

Apple brought Alcoa together with Rio Tinto to develop the technique and bring it to the market. They have now formed a new company called Elysis that will develop the technology for wide-scale use.

If that can happen, then it could cut out the greenhouses gases released by the smelting process around the world. That could vastly reduce the environmental impact of the creation of iPhones, other Apple products and everything else that relies on the important metal.

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