Alcoa Corp. and Rio Tinto announced a revolutionary process to make aluminum that produces oxygen and eliminates all direct greenhouse gas emissions from the traditional smelting process. Executives of Alcoa, Rio Tinto and Apple were joined by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier of Québec Philippe Couillard for the May 10 announcement, which signals the most significant innovation in the aluminum industry in more than a century, the companies said.
To advance larger-scale development and commercialization of the new process, Alcoa and Rio Tinto are forming Elysis, a joint venture company to further develop the new process with a technology package planned for sale beginning in 2024. Headquartered in Montreal with a research facility in Quebec’s Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, Elysis will develop and license the technology so it can be used to retrofit existing smelters or build new facilities.
When fully developed and implemented, it will eliminate direct greenhouse gas emissions from the smelting process and strengthen the closely integrated Canada-United States aluminum and manufacturing industry, the companies said. The new joint venture company will also sell proprietary anode and cathode materials, which will last more than 30 times longer than traditional components.
Canada and Quebec are each investing $C60 million ($47 million) in Elysis. The provincial government of Quebec will have a 3.5% equity stake in the joint venture with the remaining ownership split evenly between Alcoa and Rio Tinto.
Apple is providing an investment of $C13 million ($10.2 million). The company helped facilitate the collaboration between Alcoa and Rio Tinto on the carbon-free smelting process, and Apple has agreed to provide technical support to the JV partners.
Alcoa and Rio Tinto will invest $C55 million ($43 million) cash over the next three years and contribute specific intellectual property and patents. “This discovery has been long sought in the aluminum industry, and this announcement is the culmination of the work from many dedicated Alcoa employees,” said Alcoa President and CEO Roy Harvey. “Today, our history of innovation continues as we take aluminum’s sustainable advantage to a new level with the potential to improve the carbon footprint of a range of products from cars to consumer electronics.”
The patent-protected technology, developed by Alcoa, is currently producing metal at the Alcoa Technical Center, near Pittsburgh in the United States, where the process has been operating at different scales since 2009. The joint venture intends to invest up to $C40 million ($31.3 million) in the United States, which would include funding to support the supply chain for the proprietary anode and cathode materials.
Vincent Christ, who has more than 30 years of experience at Rio Tinto Aluminum, has been named CEO of Elysis. Most recently, he has served as head of technology, research and development and automation programs.