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What is Aluminum?

what is aluminum

What is aluminum?

Well, it’s properties make it light, durable and functional, aluminum is one of the key engineering materials of our time.

It can be found in many items in the homes we live in, in the automobiles we drive, in the trains and airplanes taking us on long journies, in the mobile phones and computers we use on a daily basis, in the shelves inside our fridges and in modern interior designs, but a mere 200 years ago very little was known about this metal.

We have gathered together the most asked questions about this wonderful and abundant.

Does aluminum occur naturally?

Although it is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust, it is never found free in nature. Unfortunately, it has combined with various other elements to form compounds.

Why is it so reactive?

In its purest form, it is a very reactive element and is rarely found on Earth in its free form. It acts as an excellent conductor of electricity and heat but is non-magnetic. When it is exposed to the air, any amount of air, a thin layer of whitish aluminum oxide is formed on the surface of the metal. This thin coating prevents the metal from any further corrosion and rusting.

What elements does it react with?

The metal reacts vigorously with all the halogens to form aluminum halides. In other words, it reacts with chlorine, bromine, and iodine to form respectively aluminum chloride, aluminum bromide, and aluminum iodide.

Who first discovered aluminum?

Although natural compounds containing the metal were in use for at least 4000 years in the form of Alum. The actual discovery is clouded, to say the least, it was Henry Davey who discovered a compound and named it aluminum but his compound contained potassium and not it’s pure form. The first successful attempt, however, was completed in 1824 by Danish physicist and chemist Hans Christian Ørsted. He reacted anhydrous aluminum chloride with potassium amalgam, yielding a lump of metal looking similar to tin. He presented his results and demonstrated a sample of the new metal in 1825. You can learn more about the history and discovery of its discovery here.

What are the benefits of using aluminum?

  • Good strength to weight ratio
  • 100% recyclable and non-toxic
  • Cost-effective production
  • Wide range of finishing options
  • Virtually seamless
  • Resists corrosion
  • High electrical and thermal conductivity
  • Complex, intricate shapes are possible
  • Increased strength in cold environments
  • Uniform quality
  • Comparatively low tooling costs
  • Non-sparking, non-magnetic
  • Attractive appearance
  • Resilient and highly reflective
  • Non-combustible
  • Easy to fabricate
  • Near-net shape production
  • Can be joined in many ways
  • Precise, close tolerances
  • Design freedom

Does aluminum have alloys?

Yes, it does, just like many other metals such as iron and copper. You can read the full article about alloys of here.

Why do Brits call aluminum Aluminium?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary English chemist, Sir Humphry Davy named the element aluminum in 1808 and then changed it to aluminum in 1812. British editors changed it to aluminum to be more in keeping with other elements such as potassium and sodium. Noah Webster (Webster’s Dictionary) choose to spell it as aluminum so here in the US, we stuck with the correct spelling.

What is the strongest form?

Alloy 3003: The most widely used of all the metals alloys. A commercially pure aluminum with added manganese to increase its strength (20% stronger than the 1100 grade). It has excellent corrosion resistance and workability.

Does it weaken over time?

Just like steel, aluminum alloys become weaker as the service temperature rises. But it melts at only about 1,260°F, so it loses about half of its strength by the time it reaches 600°F.

Does salt corrode aluminum?

All metals will corrode in the presence of salts. Though it does not exhibit rusting to the extent steel does, it will develop a chalky film and pitting in the metal surface when exposed to salt for long periods.

What is aluminum used for?

This amazing metal has opened up new dimensions in the last decades. There are many objects that are fully or partly made of it.

  • Cars
  • Foil
  • Bike frames
  • Ladders
  • Mailboxes
  • Staples
  • Nails
  • Camping equipment
  • Aircraft parts
  • Automotive parts such as engine blocks
  • Cans
  • Shipbuilding
  • Computer parts
  • Golf clubs
  • Sinks
  • Faucets
  • Screen door and window frames
  • Patio furniture
  • Pots and pans
  • Fencing

Are aluminum cans and foil the same thing?

Yes, and no. Undoubtedly they are both made from the metal, however, it is almost never pure. The pure version is soft and fairly weak. It is usually alloyed (mixed) with copper, zinc, magnesium, manganese, and other metals. Aluminum cans are about 98% pure with manganese and magnesium added for strength whereas foils tend to be greater than 99% pure.

Can stainless steel be used with it?

Stainless steel is an alloy of carbon steel that is, itself, resistant to corrosion. However, stainless steel is reactive with aluminum, and when a stainless steel screw is in contact with the base metal, the aluminum is likely to corrode.

Does copper react with it?

It will be very susceptible to galvanic corrosion in contact with copper, assuming that the two metals are also in contact with a common electrolyte (such as water with some ionic content.) The farther two metals or alloys are separated on the table, the faster the corrosion of the less noble of the two will be when they are in contact. This can be particularly bad in wiring or computer components.

Hopefully, we have answered some of your questions. If you have any other questions not covered here then drop a comment and we’ll add it to the answers. You can read up more on aluminum here.

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