Federal and Quebec governments fund aluminum smelting breakthrough

SAGUENAY, Que. — Aluminum giants Alcoa Inc. and Rio Tinto Group are teaming up with Apple Inc. and the federal and Quebec governments to commercialize the world’s first carbon-free aluminum smelting process.

Described by the companies as the most significant innovation in the aluminum industry in 100 years, the new process eliminates greenhouse gas emissions from traditional smelting by instead producing oxygen.

Ottawa, Quebec and Apple Inc. are investing in a joint venture between Alcoa and Rio Tinto called Elysis, which will commercialize the new, more environmentally friendly way of producing aluminium.

Elysis will have its headquarters in Montreal and a research facility in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the new technology is exactly what the federal government is looking to invest in.

“We no longer have a choice,” Trudeau told a news conference in Saguenay, about 200 kilometres north of Quebec City. “We need to create durable, economic development, while protecting the environment and today’s announcement is a magnificent example of this.”

The joint venture expects large-scale deployment of the technology by 2024 and will be given a total of $188 million from Alcoa, Rio Tinto, Ottawa, the Quebec government and Apple to develop and license the technology so it can be used to retrofit smelters or build new facilities.

Rio Tinto said in a statement the technology “has the potential to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 6.5 million metric tonnes in Canada, the equivalent of taking 1.8 million light vehicles off the road.”

The aluminum companies added that Elysis “has the potential” to create more than 1,000 jobs by 2030, “while securing 10,500 existing aluminium jobs in Canada.”

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, also on hand for the announcement, said it will take a few years to get a better idea of greenhouse gas emission reductions with the new innovation.

“Perhaps, between 2024 and 2030, we’ll be seeing the real impact of the new technology,” he said. “Aluminum products are not the main source of emissions right now. The main source is transportation.

“There is a connection. The better the quality of aluminum, the better the quality of the car, and fewer emissions will be produced.”

Ottawa and Quebec are contributing $60 million each, with the Quebec government getting a 3.5 per cent stake in the venture and Alcoa and Rio Tinto splitting the remaining ownership equally.

Alcoa and Rio Tinto will invest $55 million in the project.

Apple, which put forth $13 million, helped facilitate the collaboration between Alcoa and Rio Tinto and has vowed to provide technical support as the project progresses.

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