By Stephen Nellis
(Reuters) - Apple Inc <AAPL.O> on Thursday said it has bought the first-ever commercial batch of carbon-free aluminium from a joint venture between two of the world's biggest aluminium suppliers.
The metal is being made by Elysis, a Montreal-based joint venture of Alcoa Corp <AA.N> and Rio Tinto <RIO.AX> <RIO.L> announced last year with $144 million (£112.24 million) in funding from the two companies, Apple and the governments of Canada and Quebec.
The aluminium will be shipped this month from an Alcoa research facility in Pittsburgh and used in Apple products, although the technology company did not say which ones.
Aluminium is carbon-intensive to produce. The smelting process involves passing electrical current through a large block of carbon called an anode, which burns off during the process and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The carbon-free move is a response to consumer, activist and investor demand that miners and manufacturers show they are working to lessen their impact on climate change.
"For more than 130 years, aluminium - a material common to so many products consumers use daily - has been produced the same way. That's about to change," Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, said in a statement.
Apple uses aluminium housings for many of its electronics, including iPhones, Apple Watches and Mac computers. Apple last year introduced Mac models that use recycled aluminium.
The Alcoa-Rio joint venture wants to commercialise a technology by 2024 that uses a ceramic anode to make aluminium and emits only oxygen, eliminating direct greenhouse gas emissions from the smelting process.
Alcoa has already produced test metal with the process and joined with Rio Tinto to bring it up to commercial scale. Elysis plans to licence the technology and says that existing smelting facilities can be retrofitted to use it.
The first batch was made in Pittsburgh, but Elysis also plans to manufacture it at a $50 million CAD research facility being built in Saguenay, Quebec, and that is expected to come online in the second half of 2020.
Apple and Elysis would not disclose the size or cost of the first purchase. They described it as a "commercial batch," and Elysis said the process is expected to have lower operating costs than traditional aluminium smelting.
(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Tom Hogue)