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Aluminum: The Luckiest Unlucky Super Metal

Aug 17, 2007
We may not know it but aluminum is all around us. Just look around and you can see aluminum doors, windows, wires, cans and foils. The train or the car you rode on your way to school or the office is even made of aluminum.

The paint that covers your walls has aluminum as one of its component. The fork, spoon and even the pot you used to cook your food in is made up of aluminum.

Aluminum is the second most produced and utilized element, second only to iron, in all segments of the world economy. Its value and quantity comes a close second to iron compared to any other metals in the world.

Aluminum is considered to be the second most abundant component of the earth's crust next to the nonmetals that are oxygen and silicon.

This power player of the metals, aluminum (or aluminium in North American English, Canada and Europe), as odd as it seems considering its wide usage and popularity, does not exist purely as a free metal.

Aluminum naturally exists in the form of aluminum silicate - a compound consisting of one or more metal (in this case, aluminum), silicon, oxygen, and in some cases hydrogen.

Extracting pure aluminum from aluminum silicate is chemically difficult, therefore, making it a very expensive process. The abundance of commercial aluminum that industries are using right now comes from Bauxite - an impure hydrated aluminum oxide.

There are a number of aluminum's desirable properties that makes it a popular choice of material for different industries.

In a given volume, aluminum weighs less than one-third of the same volume of steel. Even with its lightness, it is still durable and resilient. This quality makes it suitable for use in packaging. Most of the foils used in food packaging and the cans that used to store ready-to-drink beverages are made of aluminum.

In fact, aluminum cans can be processed to be thinner than two pages of a glossy magazine. Weighing only less than half an ounce and with its virtually paper-thin fineness, these aluminum cans can still hold up more than 90 pounds per square inch of pressure. In perspective, aluminum cans can resist pressure three times more than a car tire.

Even though aluminum has a low tensile strength - or the resistance of a body to forces that tend to pull it apart - it still readily combines with other metals to form alloys. Some of the common aluminum alloys contain copper, zinc, magnesium, manganese.

The high strength-to-weight ratio of aluminum and its alloys makes it a suitable material for aircrafts, railroad cars, and automobiles and for other applications. Add in aluminum's lightness and it makes it the best material for transportation in which mobility and energy conservation is important.

With aluminum's prominence in several industries such as food packaging, transportation, construction, electronics and machinery, who would have thought that it can even be seen when you look at a mirror?

When aluminum is evaporated in vacuum, it forms thin layers of aluminum oxide that reflect light. This layer of aluminum oxide is then placed at the back surfaces of mirrors to smoothen it out and form glossy surfaces.

Aluminum has been preferred as a type of coating over silver because it does not deteriorate as fast as silver does.

If we think about it, aluminum can be considered one of the superpowers of the metals. It may sit on the unlucky number thirteen on the table of elements but aluminum has exceeded most of its metal contemporaries.
About the Author
James Monaham is the owner and Senior Editor of
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