Aluminum Facts

A guide to Aluminum Facts. Everything from structure to history, from its use to its impact on the environment and the world we live in.
aluminum facts

Aluminum Facts – What is aluminum

There are many aluminum facts. For instance, Aluminum is a chemical element with the symbol Al and an atomic number of 13. It is a relatively soft, silvery colored metal. It’s properties mean that is a highly valuable metal in the manufacturing of thousands of different products. It is also the third most abundant element on earth and the most abundant metal. Aluminum makes up approx 8% of the earth.

Aluminum binds easily with other elements, meaning that finding it in its native form is extremely rare.  It is instead taken from various ores, the main one being bauxite. Despite its abundance, aluminum is one of the few metals not found in any lifeform.

The most common form of aluminum in nature is aluminum sulfates. These are minerals which combine with two sulphuric acids; one based on an alkaline metal such as lithium, sodium and potassium and another based on a metal from the third group of the periodic table, primarily aluminum.  Read our guide to get all the aluminum facts.

Properties

In terms of uses, no other metal comes close to aluminum. Some uses of aluminum may not be immediately obvious; for example, did you know aluminum is used in the manufacturing of glass?

The most basic aluminum facts are;

  • Lightweight: Aluminum’s weight is about ⅓rd of the weight of steel, brass, or copper.
  • Strength: Although not as strong as steel, aluminum is still a very strong metal and when it is alloyed properly, it can have similar strength to steel.
  • Electrical Conductivity: One of the most conductive materials.
  • Thermal Conductivity: It can quickly spread heat or cooling energy in an even and quick manner.
  • Non-toxic: It is non-toxic, and this property makes it ideal for packing food or medical materials.
  • Reflectivity: It reflects light as well as other forms of radiant energy.
  • Ductility: Aluminum is a ductile metal, allowing it to be shaped for car panels or drawn into wire for electrical use.
  • Miscible: It can be modified by alloying it with other metals that make it malleable, conductive, and generally more resilient than aluminum alone.
  • Finishing: A variety of coatings and finishes can be used over it, such as paints, lacquer, organic coatings, or porcelain.
  • Costing: Due to the fact that it is so abundant, combined with a relatively simple production method means that aluminum is a very cost effective material.
  • Recyclable: It can be easily recycled into many products, over and over again.
  • Corrosion: Aluminum has very good anti-corrosive properties, making it ideal for construction.

 

Aluminum is at once as white as silver, as incorrodible as gold, as tenacious as iron, as fusible as copper, and as light as glass. It’s easily worked; it is widely spread in nature, alumina forming the bases of most rocks; is three times lighter than iron; in short, it seems to have been created expressly to furnish material for our projectile!

Jules Verne – From the Earth to the Moon

 

Precious Stones

There are many aluminum facts, and the perhaps the most obscure is that of aluminum and precious stones.  The precious stones, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, and Aquamarine are all Aluminum minerals. The first two are corundum, i.e. aluminum oxide (Al2O3) in crystal form. It’s naturally transparent and in terms of strength, it’s only second to diamonds. Sapphire is used in bulletproof glass, airplane windows, scratch resistant smartphone screens. In the meantime, one of the less precious corundum minerals, emery, is used as an abrasive, for example in sand cloth.

more uses for aluminum

Aluminum Facts – The History of Aluminum

Any guide to aluminum facts will begin with it’s history.  The history of Aluminum is bound with the history of Alum. The first recording mention of Alum dates back to the 5th century BC, by the Greek historian Herodotus. For many centuries it’s main use was in the textile industry. Trade in Alum was brisk, being imported from the eastern Mediterranean into Europe right up till the 15th Century.

In 1530 a Swiss physician named Paracelsus discovered that was a salt of earth of alum. This discovery leads to research into how to synthesize it.  By 1754, a German chemist synthesized alumina by boiling clay in sulphuric acid and then adding potash.

The first successful attempt at creating Aluminum from alum was in 1824 by a Danish chemist, Hans Christian Ørsted. The semi-industrial production of Aluminum did not occur till 1854, when a Frech chemist, Henri Étienne Sainte-Claire Deville, announced it at the Paris Academy of Sciences.

Large Scale Production of Aluminum

Truly large scale production of Aluminum was discovered, independently, by French engineer Paul Héroult and the American engineer Charles Martin Hall in 1886. The method is now known as the Hall–Héroult process.

This new process allowed the price of aluminum to decrease sufficiently for the production of aluminum’s use in jewelry, tableware, and foil together with other household items. By the 20th-century aluminum’s alloys with other metals to form a hard yet light metal, allowed for its use in more industrial applications. In world war 1 major, governments demanded large shipments for the production of light yet strong airframes.

Gaining wide use

During the mid 20th century aluminum started being used for a wide variety of uses; from household goods to being used in civil engineering projects, in the construction of housing, both outside and with the interior and as the go-to material for military and commercial aircraft.

Aluminum was now being used for everything from the humble soda can, invented in 1956, to be the main material of the first artificial satellite, launched in 1957.

In 1900 the total global production of aluminum stood at 6,800 metric tons. By 1916 annual production had already exceeded 100,000 metric tons. This had grown to 10 million metric tons by 1971 and today total global production stands at 65 million metric tons.

Drop in price

When it first started being produced on an industrial scale, aluminum was priced at $14,000 per ton, by 1948 this had dropped to just $2,340. The price continued to drop until the energy crisis of the 1970s when the real price started to rise. This increase in price leads to the production of aluminum moving from industrialized countries in the west to developing countries in order to lower the productions cost.

The price per ton of aluminum currently stands at $1.846, with the majority of production and consumption now in China rather than western countries.

aluminum uses

Aluminum Facts – Uses for Aluminum

Amazing Aluminum has a myriad of uses in our modern world, everything from transportation to construction, electrical to consumer goods;

Aluminum in Transportation

Because of its strength to weight ratio aluminum is the best option for transport, in all it’s forms. Lighter weight. Around 1/5th of all aluminum produced in any given year is used in transportation. Planes, trains, automobiles, and shipping all rely to a different extent on aluminum. The airplane industry as we know it would simply not exist if it was not for aluminum. Trains are now mainly created using aluminum as it is far lighter than the steel equivalent, meaning faster and more efficient trains, such as the Shinkansen of Japan or the maglev in Shanghai.
Even spacecraft have up to 90% of their parts produced from aluminum.  Potentially the largest user of aluminum is the automobile industry, as demand for more energy efficient cars increases it is predicted that by 2025 there will be an increase of 60% in the content of cars.

The use of Aluminum in Construction

Another 1/5th of aluminum production is used in the construction industry. Again the weight savings and relative strength of aluminum make it an ideal material for buildings such as the roof of stadiums, in domes, even bridges. Aluminum is also the ideal material for cladding, stairways, railings etc due to its non-corrosive nature. And because aluminum can be cut, welded, joined to other metals it uses increases further for construction such as civil engineering projects such as wind farms, solar farms and tidal power projects.

Consumer Goods

Pcs, laptops. Smartphones, tablets, TVs etc. all make use of the various properties of aluminum, its light weight makes it ideal for portable devices. The raw, natural look also lends itself to high-quality devices such as the iPhone or iPad.

We all have some aluminum foil in our kitchen cupboards, this miracle material was invented in 1910 and has been instrumental in various uses in medical and food packaging, preserving the contents for months and sometimes years.  Similarly, aluminum has been a lifesaver for the same reasons, not only in its use but because aluminum can be recycled pretty much forever.

Electrical

Although aluminum only has 60% of the conductivity of copper, it is far lighter, cheaper and more widely available. These properties mean that around 10% of global production of aluminum is for electrical uses. For instance, power lines of copper can be expensive and due to the weight, require extra support which again increases costs. Aluminum does not need these, plus the fact that it is anti-corrosive makes it the ideal material.

Other Uses

  • Many consumer products make use of aluminum, which includes household fittings, gas cylinders, containers, bicycles, etc.
  • The highly reflective nature of aluminum is useful in making mirrors and heat reflectors.
  • Marine equipment, like ship bodies, helipads, handrails, etc., make use of aluminum.
  • Baseball bats, tennis racquets, golf clubs, watches, etc., are also made up of this metallic element.
  • Super purity aluminum, which is 99.980 to 99.999% pure, is used in CDs and other electronic equipment.
  • Many salts and compounds of aluminum are used in manufacturing glass, ceramics, paper, paints, and artificial gemstones.
  • Some countries manufacture coins that are made of aluminum, or its alloys with copper.

Aluminum has been used both as the substrate and as a component of tools in the manufacturing process right from the moment of it’s discovery, whether that is in CNC machining or in processes such as grinding.

We hope you enjoyed our brief guide to aluminum facts.  We are able to carry out a number of processes on aluminum, from anodizing to CNC machining, contact us today to see how we can help.

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