The modern world owes much to aluminium, a silvery-white, soft, non-magnetic, ductile metal. Indeed, the aviation, construction, electronic, automotive, energy and food industries – just to name a few – would all be unsustainable without aluminium.
So, what’s so important about aluminium and why has it become a symbol of technological progress?
Light, extremely strong, durable and functional, aluminium is the most common metal, making up more than 8 per cent of the Earth’s core mass. It’s also the third most common chemical element on our planet after oxygen and silicon.
Up to 300 various aluminium compounds and minerals contain aluminium, ranging from feldspar to precious gems like rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Since aluminium easily forms compounds with other chemical elements, a huge variety of aluminium alloys have been developed.
Aluminium was first produced in 1824, but it took another 50 years for it to be manufactured on an industrial scale. Consequently, for decades aluminium was more highly prized than gold: Napoleon III proudly served his most honoured guests using aluminium plates and cutlery, because it was such a rare metal at the time.
Nowadays, a common mineral called bauxite is used as the primary raw material in aluminium production. The silvery-white metal is mined in Australia, Brazil, India, Guinea, Indonesia, Jamaica, Russia, Suriname and China, which is the world’s top aluminium producer.
So, what do we use aluminium for today? Here are just three of the versatile metal’s top applications:
- Flying high: Aluminium will always have a place in our hearts as the metal that allowed people to fly. A single Boeing-747 aeroplane contains more than 66,000kg of aluminium; the metal makes up 80 per cent of modern aeroplanes.Light, strong and flexible, it proved an ideal material for building heavier-than-air aircraft. It’s no wonder aluminium is known as the “winged metal”. However, all types of vehicles – ranging from bikes through to NASA spaceships – are made from aluminium. This awesome and versatile metal gives us speed and agility; transport also accounts for the largest share of aluminium consumption at about 27 per cent.
2. Phone home: The metal is heavily used in our mobile-phone cases and components and it’s not just smartphones – aluminium is also being increasingly utilised to make a wide range of electronic devices such as tablets, laptops, flat-screen TVs, monitors and more. This is due to the fact that aluminium cleverly combines beauty and practicality; aluminium gadgets are sophisticated and reliable, while simultaneously light and robust. Aluminium producers are also constantly offering designers and engineers new and improved aluminium alloys – both anodised and not, polished and matt, smooth and rifled – which allows them to apply even the most complex and daring designer solutions. Global electronics manufacturers are also successfully using aluminium to replace steel and plastic. The entire range of Apple’s MacBook uses an aluminium-only body in all models.
3. Build ’em up: Did you know? The top of the Washington Monument is capped with a 22.6cm aluminium pyramid. What’s more, up to 25 per cent of all aluminium produced worldwide is used in the construction industry. Our modern-day skyscrapers; entertainment, trade and exhibition centres; stadiums, pools and other sports facilities are all built using lightweight and sturdy aluminium frames. Why? Aluminium has been called the “miracle metal” for its lightweight, but strong, malleable and anti-corrosive properties. It offers architects unlimited creativity, allowing them to make structures which cannot be matched with wood, plastic or steel.
Image via: https://www.aviationmegastore.com/