Aluminum, also known as aluminium, is a chemical element with the symbol Al. It is a metal with a silver color, a density of 2.7 grams per cubic cm and a melting point of 660 °C. It is the most common of all metallic elements and 8.1% of the Earth is actually made of aluminum. It is never found in pure form in nature, but as compounds with various elements such as oxygen. The pure metal is soft and easily ductile, alloys can have improved durability and other properties. Aluminum alloys have many advantages; they can easily be worked in various ways and provide a great mix of strength and low weight. The metal is suitable for casting, machining and multiple joining techniques.
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Aluminum is perfect for many applications because it is resistant to corrosion, has a very goof thermal and electrical conductivity, is very reflective and has a reduced density. As soon as aluminum is exposed to air, it reacts with it, forming a layer of oxide that covers it completely and makes it immune to further corrosion.
Bauxite is the main natural mineral that contains aluminium, the white silvery metal that is the most widespread in the Earth's crust but never encountered in pure form. Since it is so common, this metallic element can be found everywhere in low amounts, for example in foods, drinking water or pharmaceutical products. It can have toxic effects if allowed to accumulate in high concentrations. The metal is widely used in industry because of the excellent properties of its alloys, which resist corrosion, are durable and have a low weight. Aluminium is not magnetic, doesn't produce sparks and is an excellent conductor of electricity and heat.
Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), an English chemist, was the one who gave the metal the name aluminum. Since it was considered to be a white mineral salt at the time, the name comes from alumen, the Latin word for bitter salts. The original name coined by Davy was aluminum but his publishers altered it to aluminum, the name currently used in the USA. The British name is actually aluminium, because later editors considered it necessary to be similar to sodium, potassium and various other metallic elements.
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The metal was discovered for the first time around the year 100 BC and was already known and used by ancient Greeks and Romans. They called it alum and employed it mainly to produce red dye and to accelerate the healing of open wounds due to its astringent properties.
Sir Humphry Davy tried to extract the metal from alumina, the main compounds in clay, but didn't succeed. However, he later detailed his experiments in 1812 in the book Elements of Chemical Philosophy, when he also gave it the current name. Danish chemist Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851) managed to obtain a concentrated form in 1825, from aluminium chloride. German chemist Friedrich Wohler was the first who isolated it in 1827, by heating a mixture of aluminum chloride and potassium, combined with a process of electrolysis. The technique was similar to the one initially used by Davy. The procedure was patented in 1886 by Charles Martin Hall.
Because it reacts immediately with oxygen, aluminium is never found in free state in nature. However, it is extremely abundant in various salts, especially silicate and oxides. Except for sandstones and limestones, basically all other rocks and soils are rich in this metal, which is found all over the world. The most important minerals are bauxite, a mixture of aluminium hydroxide and iron hydroxide, as well as the rare cryolite, only found in Greenland.
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In pure form, aluminium has several industrial uses as a conductor in silicon chips, and capacitor foil in electronics and the manufacture of computer hard drives. While a soft metal when pure, aluminium can become stronger than steel in various alloys. It is usually combined with very small amounts of other metals like zinc, magnesium, copper or with silicon. Duralumin is an example of a very hard alloy consisting of 94% aluminium with added manganese, copper and magnesium.
Because of the low weight of aluminium alloys, they are perfect for planes, trains, ships, cars and other vehicles. It can significantly decrease the consumption of fuel, and the amount of gas emitted is lower as a result. It is used for the same purpose in the production of many other items, such as motorcycles.
Aluminium alloys are also suitable for packaging, for example in metal foils and beverage cans. They are heavily used in the production of windows, doors and other elements required in construction. Cooking utensils like saucepans are the main aluminium products for household use.
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This silvery metal has one of the best strength to weight ratios found in nature. This makes it ideal in transportation because lighter vehicles need less power to move, so they burn less fuel and are a lot more economical. Aluminium can become extremely durable when alloyed with other metals that improve its strength. In addition, it resists corrosion without any special treatments for this purpose, which can be really expensive.
Due to its widespread use in avionics, aluminium is also nicknamed the winged metal. It provides an optimal mix of strength, flexibility and low weight. Even before airplanes or wings were even invented, this metal was used in the construction of zeppelins. It is found today in most parts of airplanes, not only the fuselage but also items like seats or instruments. Space shuttles and rockets are also made from at least 50% aluminium.
Aluminium is not the best in conducting electricity, with 63% of the effectiveness of copper. However, since it is very light, this metal is widely used for long power lines. Copper is more expensive and using it would greatly increase the weight of power lines and require stronger support infrastructure. Aluminium is also easier to work, so wires are less expensive to produce. They also last longer since they are immune to corrosion.
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Other common industrial uses include the production of power systems, engines and other appliances. It is needed for some LED light bulbs, as well as various antennae and satellite equipment.
Since it has an attractive silvery look, aluminium is a good choice for a wide range of consumer items. A newer trend is to produce TVs, mobile phones, laptops, tablets and other electronics from aluminium alloys. It is very light and strong, while making the products look high-tech and futuristic. The metal has many advantages in consumer products and is very easy to work in any desired shape. It has become a viable alternative for steel and plastic, since it provides the perfect balance of weight and durability. When used in the cases of electronic products, it prevents overheating due to its excellent heat dissipating ability.
Aluminium has an attractive look and various shapes are easy to produce, so it is prized by home interior designers. Metal furniture like lamps, picture frames, decorative panels, tables or chairs is increasingly popular.
The metal is also widely used in the kitchen, for example in the metal foil needed as packaging. Pots, frying pans and other utensils are also commonly made from aluminium. It has several advantages, being corrosion resistant, easy to clean and a good heat conductor.
Cans produced from this white metal are a very common type of packaging due to the low weight. Coca-Cola and Pepsi have introduced aluminium cans in 1967; they are now the standard for both beer and sodas.
In the house, aluminium is especially used for windows, kitchen items and door knobs. Saucepans, toasters, refrigerators and kettles also include aluminium elements, which is also a quality material for furniture. It is used to manufacture some types of sports equipment like tennis racquets and golf clubs.
In construction, the metal has many used due to its durability and reduced weight. Many elements like building bridges, shutters, ladders, skylights and railings are made from aluminium. It is also found in many other elements like wiring, bars, tubing, sheets, pipes, casting, scraps, rods, doors and stampings. It serves as a structural element in buildings and as a material for staircases. It has many industrial applications because of the low density and rust resistance, which means it doesn't need any maintenance.
Insulated aluminium can be an effective building cladding material with a nice aspect. It is easily combined and joined with basically any other material, so it can be applied or inserted to make buildings look more modern. Due to its versatility, it is popular with builders and metal workers. It can be easily shaped, curved, cut, bonded, welded or tapered.
A lot of the world's aluminium production is needed for the packaging of drinks, foods or pharmaceutical products. It if found in many common items like bottles, thermoses, utensils, kettles, refrigerators, toasters, saucepans, cans, trays or foils. It is great for protecting food because it stops germs from attacking it and has absolutely no taste, so it doesn't change the one of aliments. It is also water-proof, doesn't rust and is completely non-toxic, so it can be used safely. Packaging food in aluminium can greatly extend its storage period, while shielding it from pathogens and the action of other elements.
The main use for this metal is in the transportation industry. Basically any type of vehicle can be built from aluminium, from normal cars and buses to planes and aircraft carriers. It provides good strength at a low weight. Planes use it for many important parts like wings, frames, electrical systems and wiring. It is easy to alloy with other metals in order to gain new properties, while maintaining its natural resistance to corrosion, so it is perfect for automobiles and transportation.
Power lines made from aluminium are an ideal solution due to the reduced weight. The low density of this metal makes it suitable even if copper is a lot better at conducting electricity. If the total weight is considered, aluminium can transport twice more power when compared to copper.
The metal is very popular both in high-voltage applications and in long-range power lines. These can also be built with copper but in this case the support structures have to be stronger and a lot more expensive. In addition, copper is not as ductile and it is more difficult to transform it into wire. The low weight makes it the material of choice for satellite receivers.
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