Aluminum has been mass produced the same way since 1886, when it was pioneered by Alcoa's founder, Charles Hall.
Smelting aluminum conventionally requires anodes made of carbon-rich material as carbon is a good conductor of electricity as well as being cheap.
"Through this alliance and this unprecedented combined effort, Rio Tinto and Alcoa are helping Canada's aluminium industry to reposition itself as a global leader in low-carbon aluminium production".
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.
The two aluminum companies will have a joint venture company called Elysis and a research facility based in Quebec to develop and license the technology. 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. "It is a truly historic day for the aluminium industry - and for all Canadian aluminium workers - who play such an important role in our economy and our country's future", he said.
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. "It builds on the key role aluminium has to play in driving human progress, by making products infinitely recyclable, stronger, lighter and more fuel efficient", said Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques.
The technology has already attracted a collective investment of CAD$144m, with CAD$60m each from the Canadian government and the government of Quebec, CAD$13m from tech giant Apple, and CAD$55m each from Alcoa and Rio Tinto over the next three years. The Quebec Government will have a 3.5 per cent stake in the JV with the remaining ownership to be split between Alcoa and Rio Tinto.
Elysis will continue to develop this cleaner aluminum smelting technology, with first planned sales to begin in 2024, with Apple continuing to provide technical support.
The JV also plans to invest $C40 million in the USA to support the supply chain for the proprietary anode and cathode materials. To make the process "carbon-free", Apple will join the $144 million joint venture, as well as offering technical support to its partners.
Apple CEO Tim Cook called the project "ambitious", and said in a statement that he looks "forward to one day being able to use aluminum produced without direct greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing of our products".
Aluminum production companies Alcoa and Rio Tinto announced Thursday the formation of Elysis, a joint venture company created to commercialize a new aluminum smelting process with no direct greenhouse gas emissions - with backing from tech giant Apple.