Chile aiming to be the source of all Apple’s hardware power

3 Jun 2015

With Apple regularly attempting to clean up its image of manufacturing, both figuratively and literally, the South American nation of Chile believes it can court the company as the source of all its future clean, rare-earth minerals.

The company has been credited with leading the charge towards more tech companies becoming involved in using renewable energy in their production processes, and it has already been awarded the gold standard by Greenpeace for 100pc renewable usage.

And now, according to Bloomberg, Chile believes it can entice the company to move Apple’s hunt for rare-earth minerals away from places where its extraction is harsh on the environment to the pine plantations of southern Chile, 400km south of the capital, Santiago.

The two minerals in question, neodymium and dysprosium, are crucial to the production of iPhones and other products, and have been almost exclusively sourced from southern China through a process of pouring harmful chemicals into the soil and waiting for the minerals to come out.

Replanting trees

Using the Chilean method, a company called Activa will start the BioLantanidos project to put the clay that contains the minerals through a leaching process using biodegradable chemicals, which when finished will allow new trees to be planted in in the clay.

The process is certainly more expensive and laborious than the dirtier method, but head of the project Arturo Albornoz feels it will be enough to entice the big companies, including Apple.

“It’s our big bet on green mining,” he said in a recent interview. “The chemicals may be more expensive, but we’re saving in storage and handling of waste.”

Apple willing to pay big for green?

There are still doubts, however, among market analysts that Apple and others will go for the more expensive method.

“Buyers are certainly willing to take a secure supply chain and green production, but only if pricing is, at worst, no higher than the existing Chinese prices,” said Stormcrow’s president, Jon Hykawy.

However, Albornoz and his BioLantanidos crew believe they can sell it for four times its cost price to willing buyers.

Chilean forest image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic