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April 22, 2021
🌎 Good morning and happy Earth Day!
Cleaner aluminum?
aluminum

This Earth Day, here’s something a bit different, with an Apple hook.

Green aluminum:

  • An interesting Bloomberg Businessweek story explains how, with some help from Apple, rival aluminum makers have teamed up to try to smelt the metal without producing any direct carbon pollutants.
  • Why Apple? The company is estimated to use 15,000 metric tons of aluminum annually for its device, and like many businesses, seeks to reduce its carbon footprint.
  • Apple generated some 22.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020, per its own report, and references its work with aluminum and Elysis, the Canadian company created to disrupt aluminum production.
  • It’s estimated the aluminum sector accounts for almost 3% of global emissions.

Background 

  • Aluminum is sometimes called “solid electricity”, due to the huge amount of power used to smelt alumina. 
  • Smelters are located in hydropower-rich regions, and increasingly use renewable energy. (I worked on a project at one in Australia that was shut down due to unsustainable electricity prices versus aluminum prices).
  • The process of smelting, though, generates enormous emissions. 
  • Bloomberg quotes a research group saying “for every ton of aluminum produced, as much as 11 tons of carbon dioxide are emitted.”

Anyway, the story goes that Apple prodded two smelting rivals, Rio Tinto and Alcoa, working on innovations to decarbonize the smelting process, to join forces. They did so under the name Elysis. 

And here’s where it gets interesting, via the Businessweek piece:

  • “The result [of collaboration] was the creation of Elysis, a joint venture between Alcoa and Rio Tinto with investments from Apple, the government of Canada, and the provincial government of Quebec, which is one of the biggest aluminum-producing regions in the world. 
  • “The venture has developed a technology that makes so-called green aluminum, whose production doesn’t emit carbon dioxide. If the partners can make the process work at commercial scale, it could be used to retrofit existing smelters, transforming them from some of the dirtiest industrial polluters into the kind of green manufacturing facilities business and government are shifting toward.
new smelting process
Bloombergu Businessweek/Elysis
  • “We use noncarbon materials that do not react, and as a consequence you get the separation of aluminum on the one side and oxygen on the other,” says [Vincent] Christ from Rio Tinto, who’s spent 36 years working to create carbonless aluminum. “It’s absolutely magic how we do that, but the explanation is very simple, actually.”

Now, it’s a little greenwashy to say that aluminum will become a green manufacturing business:

  • It will still consume huge amounts of energy and materials, even if renewables become larger portions of the mix. 
  • Recycling will always be better than needing to mine bauxite ore. 
  • But this would be an enormous improvement, if it can reach commercialization.
Roundup

🆕 Android 12’s third developer preview is now out, promising developers an improved app launch experience, and new design choices (Google).

🤝 Google Pixel 5a likely to have Pixel 5 processor, as hinted by Android 12 DP 3. It’s the Pixel 6 that’s said to have Google’s first custom processor, by the way (Android Authority).

👨🏻‍🤝‍👨🏻 OnePlus 9R review: This is a decent phone that’s good enough to rival the OnePlus 9, but the competition is fierce and the OnePlus 8T is almost the same too (Android Authority).

📸 Camera shootout: OnePlus 9 Pro vs Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max — neither has gimmick lenses, so which one is best for you? (Android Authority).

The first OnePlus Watch update has made things less awful: fixing bugs, and improving things like GPS, fitness tracking, notifications, and well, everything it got wrong (Android Authority).

Congress is diving into the app store fight: Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store were both in the hot seat, as Match, Spotify, and Tile detailed how feeds and walled ecosystems hurt in various ways (The Verge).

🍎 Updates that didn’t make it in Apple’s livestream: true Apple TV 4K refresh rate (not 120Hz, but it does have an HDMI 2.1 port), Mac mini gets better Ethernet, and more (Ars Technica).

🍏 Apple ransomware leak corroborates 2021 MacBook Pro features: HDMI port, MagSafe, SD card slot, no Touch Bar (MacRumors).

🔐 Epic hack: Signal CEO Moxie Marlinspike hacks Cellebrite iPhone hacking device used by cops — turns out to be full of vulnerabilities (Vice).

📦 “How do bots buy up graphics cards? In this article, the writer rented one to find out (PCMag).

🛰️ SpaceX denies claim that Starlink and OneWeb satellites almost collided, and the OneWeb PR at the time looks a bit grim (Ars Technica).

🚀 NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission postponed until tomorrow morning: now scheduled for 5:49 am. EDT April 23 (NASA).

🔴 NASA’s Perseverance rover turns a tiny bit of Mars air into breathable oxygen, marking a successful experiment (Engadget).

🔊 This speaker uses dancing ferrofluid to visualize music (The Verge).

🌅 “ELI5: Why do sunsets and sunrises look so different? Isn’t it technically the same thing?” (r/explainlikeimfive).

Throwback Thursday
winamp
Tristan Rayner / Android Authority

Winamp was released April 21st back in 1997, making the MP3 media player 23 years old yesterday.

Initially, Winamp was freeware, but in January 1998, it was switched to shareware, where for $10, people would get absolutely nothing more. But, per Wikipedia, “Winamp’s popularity and warm reception brought Nullsoft $100,000 a month that year from $10 paper checks in the mail from paying users”

It was in March 1998 that the famous Demo.mp3 file was included, with the words “Winamp, it really whips the llama’s ass”

Founders Justin Frankel (who was 18 years old for the first release of Winamp) and Dmitry Boldyrev sold Nullsoft, which developed Winamp, for a cool $80M to AOL, where by 2001, it had 60 million users. The original Nullsoft team had left by 2004. 

Winamp still exists now — Belgian online radio aggregator Radionomy bought Nullsoft, the company that developed Winamp, and through various wranglings, the last major release was Winamp 5.8 back in 2018, on winamp.com.

Cheers,

Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor.

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