Greenhouse gas emissions may be eliminated from aluminum smelting process if a new technological development proves successful.
Alcoa and Rio Tinto announced in a press release that they have a formed a joint venture to develop a new way to make aluminum that produces oxygen and eliminates all direct greenhouse gas emissions. Apple is also involved in the project, providing technical support and investing money in the project.
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. If successful, the process will be used to retrofit existing smelters or build new facilities. The plan is to have the carbon-free smelter technology available in early 2024.
"This discovery has been long sought in the aluminum industry," said Alcoa President and CEO Roy Harvey in the news release.
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The announcement will have no immediate impact on the Intalco Works facility near Ferndale because it will take several years to prove the technology works at a commercial scale, said Jim Beck, a spokesman for Alcoa.
It is a tantalizing prospect if it does work on a commercial scale. According to a 2015 Greenhouse Gas Report from the Washington state Department of Ecology, the Ferndale facility emitted nearly 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent that year. The facility is also a major employer in the county, with nearly 700 workers at the end of 2017.
"The technology is a tremendous innovation for the aluminum industry with the potential to make our products even more sustainable," Beck said.
Apple has a keen interest in this technology because aluminum is a key material in its most popular products, the company said in a separate news release.
"We are proud to be part of this ambitious new project, and look forward to one day being able to use aluminum produced without direct greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing of our products," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, in the news release.