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iPhone SE 2022 is first phone ever made with carbon-free aluminum — why that's a big deal

iPhone SE 2022 back of phone
(Image credit: Future)

Your next iPhone could be made out of a very different kind of material if Apple has anything to say about it.

The electronics giant announced this week that it's buying carbon-free aluminum that's been manufactured at scale without any direct emissions during the smelting process. It won't be long before that new material finds its way into an Apple product — Apple says the carbon-free aluminum will be used in the new iPhone SE (2022) that's making its debut this month.

This isn't the first time Apple has used lab-made metal in its products. The company bought a small batch of aluminum in 2019, incorporating it into the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

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With Apple's goal of becoming carbon neutral across its supply chain by 2030, you'd figure we haven't seen the last of the carbon-free aluminum used in the iPhone SE. Apple never discusses upcoming products, but with the iPhone 14 launch likely coming in the fall, it's a safe bet that carbon-free aluminum will be one of the materials incorporated into future phones.

The aluminum used in the iPhone SE comes from Elysis, which has figured out a way to manufacture the material with oxygen, rather than greenhouse gasses, as a byproduct. “This is the first time aluminum has been produced at this commercial purity, without any greenhouse gas emission and at industrial scale," Elysis CEO Vincent Christ said in a statement accompanying Apple's announcement.

carbon-free aluminum smelting

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple has been investing in clean power and emission reduction by issuing what it calls Green Bonds to fund projects. Since 2016, the company says it's invested $4.7 billion in Green Bonds.

If you've watched any recent Apple launch events, you'll know that a product's environmental impact is a frequently included topic. For instance, every model in the iPad lineup uses an enclosure that's made with recycled aluminum; that material also is used in the latest MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini and Apple Watch. All that has helped Apple reduce its carbon emissions associated with aluminum by nearly 70% since 2015.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.