Properties and common uses of aluminium.
Where does Aluminium come from?
Aluminium is most commonly found in bauxite ore, which is found mostly in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Over a third of the world’s bauxite is currently mined in Australia, China, and Guinea. 4 tonnes of bauxite ore can produce roughly 1 tonne of pure aluminium; however, aluminium is completely recyclable, meaning it can be used and recycled repeatedly without losing the integrity of its physical or chemical properties.
German culture has a proverb “Alles hat ein ende, nur die wurst hat zwei” – which translates to, “Everything has an end, only the sausage has two” which demonstrates an understanding that all things have a scheduled beginning and ending. However, with aluminium we can see this simply is not true. After you have enjoyed your can of fizzy drink and discarded the can into a recycling bin in the park, it can be melted down and reformed into a new can and put into shops in under two months, at only 5% of the energy and greenhouse gas emissions it would require to be made from scratch. The best part is, every time aluminium is melted down and reformed into new ingots, it maintains 100% of its quality and integrity. So, maybe everything has an end, except sausages and aluminium, which have two and zero respectively.
Qualities of Aluminium
Aluminium is incredibly strong considering how lightweight it is. A cubic metre of aluminium weighs around 2.7 tonnes, much lighter than the same volume of steel or iron, both roughly 7.9 tonnes per cubic metre. In spite of this, aluminium can be forged to be just as strong as steel, depending on the alloys and processing techniques used. Aluminium can be alloyed with a variety of materials to alter the properties, such as copper, magnesium, silicon, and tin. These alloys can then be hot rolled or cold rolled to further increase their strength, essentially by “freezing” the atoms into place.
Aluminium also has a really clever way of preventing itself from rusting. When it makes contact with atmospheric oxygen, it forms a thin layer of aluminium oxide across the entire surface, preventing rust and corrosion. If the surface is disturbed, scratched, bent, or cut, any raw exposed edges will form a new layer of aluminium oxide.
Common Uses of Aluminium
Aluminium can be found in many places in the home, such a cooking foil, drinks and food cans, smartphones, utensils and cutlery, and elements of flat pack furniture. It may be chosen for these purposes because it is easily malleable and can be quickly machined into products.
Aluminium is used in construction too, from window frames, to wall panels, to light fittings. Due to not just its strength, but also its corrosion and rust resisting properties, aluminium is used and trusted in some of the world’s tallest buildings.
Road & Rail Vehicles.
Any kind of vehicle can incorporate aluminium into its manufacture. It is beneficial to any vehicle as the light weight of aluminium increases fuel economy. Additionally, aluminium absorbs large amounts of crash forces by the use of crumple zones, usually located at the front and other areas of cars, trucks, and trains.
Aluminium can also be found at sea and in the air because lightweight structures assist the overall buoyancy of cruise ships and makes it easier for aircraft to fly without being weighted back down to earth or requiring three times the fuel. The Boeing 737, the best-selling commercial aeroplane, has been manufactured since 2007, and is still manufactured to this day, at roughly 80% aluminium in the fuselage, wings, and airframe.
These aircraft advantages have also been used by space agencies, in the space shuttle program, and on NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Naturally, when sending humans and expensive experiments into space, the strength of materials used is important, however, the fuel required to send things into orbit or beyond is very expensive. It can cost between a few thousand pounds, to tens of thousands of pounds for each kilo of payload launched, so lightweight spacecraft make the whole thing possible.
Back on earth, we can find aluminium out in our cities and towns. Aluminium is a fantastic choice for street furniture such as bike racks, benches, bins, fences and gates, ashtrays, bollards, public toilets, light fixtures, and signs, as it is easily manufacturable into many shapes, and isn’t easily affected by weather.
One interesting use for aluminium that many people may not consider often is shark cages. Because of the light weight, the cages are more buoyant when made from aluminium, and are protected, by the aluminium oxide layer, from damage from saltwater that other metals would suffer greatly from. These lightweight cages can even survive an attack from a Great White shark and protect the diver inside.
Military aircraft, similar to the Boeing 737 discussed earlier, can benefit from the same advantages that commercial airliners do. It is also used in military vehicles, such as Humvees and BFVs, which are reminiscent of tanks. Processed aluminium-based armour plating can protect soldiers from explosions and even bullets. Aluminium can even be used in the creation of bulletproof “glass”. Though not truly a glass, ALON is a form of ceramic made from aluminium, oxygen, and nitrogen. It is almost fully transparent and is three times as strong as steel plating of the same thickness, stopping high-calibre bullets and other projectiles in their tracks.
A Very Useful Metal.
So, there we have it. Aluminium is incredibly lightweight, strong, easy to work with, and its uses are multitudinous. It can be used for almost anything and protects itself from rust and other forms of corrosion.
Aluminium could be perfect for your next project, and you can find the full metals4U range of beams, bars, plates, rods, and more here.