Alcoa, Rio Tinto in Apple-backed JV for carbon-free aluminium technology

Alcoa and Rio Tinto have set up a joint-venture firm with investment from the governments of Canada and the Canadian province of Quebec as well as technology firm Apple to license and sell technology creating carbon-free aluminium.

The new company, Elysis, will receive funding totaling Canadian $188 million ($146 million) and will be headquartered in Montreal with a research facility in Quebec’s Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. Its chief executive officer will be Vincent Christ, who has more than 30 years of experience in Rio Tinto’s aluminium division.

When fully developed and implemented, the technology will be used for retrofits of existing smelting facilities or construction of new plants that will produce oxygen and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the traditional smelting process.

Canada and Quebec are each investing C$60 million ($46 million), while Apple is investing C$13 million ($10 million) as part of its commitment to making its products using only recycled materials. The provincial government of Quebec will have a 3.5% equity stake in the joint venture, with the remainder split equally between Alcoa and Rio Tinto.

Apple helped to facilitate the collaboration between the aluminium producers and has agreed to provide the joint venture with technical support in the next phase, with the goal of one day using the carbon-free metal in its products.

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

In addition to the intellectual property and patents, Alcoa and Rio Tinto will also invest C$55 million ($42.50 million) in cash during the next three years.

Executives of Alcoa, Rio Tinto and Apple were joined by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard for the announcement, which signals the most significant innovation in the aluminium industry in more than a century.

Alcoa has developed the technology, which is protected by 40 patent families and is ready for scale-up. CEO Roy Harvey said the technology took aluminium’s sustainable advantage to a new level.

Rio Tinto, meanwhile, is the world’s leading smelting technology development organization, with its AP technology a world leader. CEO JS Jacques said the new technology could transform the industry as well as customer supply chains.

Alcoa is producing metal at the Alcoa Technical Center near Pittsburgh in the US state of Pennsylvania, where the process has been operating since 2009. It eliminates direct greenhouse gases, extends the anode life by around 30 times, cuts operating costs by 15% and increases productivity by the same amount, the companies said.

If implemented at Canada’s existing aluminium smelters, the technology has the potential to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by about 6.5 million tonnes in the country – the equivalent of taking 1.8 million light-duty vehicles off the road.

Elysis will also sell proprietary anode and cathode materials; a portion of its committed C$40 million ($31 million) investment in the United States will be used for this supply chain.