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revolutionising computers with aluminium
Watch a block of aluminium turn into an Apple MacBook here. 

Apple MacBook Pro’s unibody is light, strong and environmentally friendly.

And what made these results possible? Aluminium!

Apple’s Jony Ive, Senior Vice President Design, said: “Traditionally notebooks are made from multiple parts. But the problem is when you have multiple parts you add size and weight, and you increase the opportunity for failure. And the huge breakthrough that we had with the MacBook was to replace all of those parts with just one part, and that one part we call the unibody.

“We figured out a way of being able to make the notebook fundamentally thinner, lighter, more robust and with a degree of fit and finish that we’ve never even dreamed of before – and the only way to make that one part was to machine it from a single piece of aluminium.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the environmental story. We’ve achieved a design that is both energy star compliant as well as rated EP Gold,” said Bob Mansfield, Senior Vice President Mac Hardware.

apple's aluminium strategy aids shift to greener products
Story thanks to Josh Ong and

Even as rumours have emerged that the next iPhone could transition back to an aluminium casing, Apple's move toward highly recyclable aluminium cases for its products has contributed significantly to the company's efforts to achieve environmental sustainability.

In 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs penned an open letter highlighting changes to the company's environmental policy in hopes of achieving "a greener Apple." In the letter, Jobs specifically noted the Cupertino, Calif., Mac maker's adoption of aircraft-grade aluminium in order to improve recycling uptake.

At the time, Jobs forecast that Apple would increase recycling effectiveness, which is measured by calculating the total weight recycled in a given year divided by the total weight sold seven years prior, from 9.5% in 2006 to 28% in 2010. The company has been remarkably successful in its efforts, achieving a 66.4% recycle rate in 2009 and setting a goal of 70% for 2010-2015.

Recycled aluminium requires just 5% of the energy needed to produce primary aluminium, while emitting 95% less greenhouse gases.

According to Klaus Kleinfeld, CEO of aluminium giant Alcoa, the metal is "infinitely recyclable," with 75% of all aluminium produced since 1888 still in active use today.

Alcoa sees rapid growth of aluminium in the electronics market, as evidenced by its recent acquisition of a minority stake in Electronics Recycling International, the largest recycler of electronics waste in the U.S.

"Consumer electronics represents a fast-growing market for aluminium, with the aluminium content in laptops alone expected to increase 30% by 2013 from a 2010 baseline," said Alcoa’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kevin Anton.

Apple popularised aluminium laptops in 2003 with the introduction of the aluminium PowerBook G4. In 2008, the company outdid itself by implementing a custom-developed aluminium unibody enclosure for the release of the MacBook Air and later the MacBook and MacBook Pro. The unibody manufacturing process utilises "computer numerical control" machines to carve a chassis out of one block of aluminium.

Aluminium has made its way to Apple's post-PC products as well, within an appearance in various versions of the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Apple indicated in its recent Environmental Report for the iPad 2 that the device's aluminium casing is "highly desired by recyclers."

Although, interestingly enough, the second-generation tablet requires slightly more aluminium (135g compared to 125g) than its predecessor, despite being 15% lighter.

Some reports have speculated that the concurrent release of the white model of the iPad 2 was made possible because its aluminium back does not suffer from the same light leakage issues as the iPhone 4's glass panels. The white iPhone 4 was announced last year, but was delayed by Apple until this spring.

Given Apple's frequent use of aluminium in its products, speculation has emerged that the next-generation iPhone will feature an aluminium back. The original iPhone used an aluminium back, but was phased out in favour of a plastic back on the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS.

The iPhone 4 currently sports front and rear glass panels and a stainless steel outer frame that doubles as an antenna. Apple's decision to use the frame as an antenna drew criticism last summer after some users reported dropped calls and reduced signal bars when gripping the phone.

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