Aluminum has been mass produced the same way since 1886, when it was pioneered by Alcoa’s founder, Charles Hall. The process involves applying a strong electrical current to alumina, which removes oxygen. Both Hall’s original experiments and today’s largest smelters use a carbon material that burns during the process, producing greenhouse gases.
Lynch, Yurko and Sassaman learned that Alcoa had designed a completely new process that replaces that carbon with an advanced conductive material, and instead of carbon dioxide, it releases oxygen. The potential environmental impact was huge, and to help realize it quickly, Alcoa needed a partner.
That’s when David Tom, Maziar Brumand and Sean Camacho in Apple business development brought Rio Tinto to the table. Rio Tinto had a robust worldwide presence as well as deep experience in smelting technology development and international sales and commercialization.
Together, the two aluminum companies formed a joint venture called Elysis, which will work to develop this technology further for larger scale production and commercialization, with a package planned for sale beginning in 2024. Apple will continue to provide technical support as well. The patent-pending technology is already in use at the Alcoa Technical Center, outside Pittsburgh, and this project will invest more than $30 million in the United States.
If fully developed and implemented, this new method has the potential to eliminate direct greenhouse gas emissions from the smelting process around the world, strengthening the closely integrated Canada-United States aluminum and manufacturing industries.