Knowing Aluminium as an Element and its Properties and Uses
Aluminium is one of the ubiquitous materials seen and used all around us. This silvery-white, lightweight metal which is soft and malleable was discovered comparatively late unlike other metals in just 1825 by Danish chemist and physicist Hans Christian Ørsted.
With an atomic number in the periodic table of 13, Aluminium is the most abundant metal found on the Earth’s crust (8.1%) and second most used metal globally next only to iron. As a mineral it is next to only oxygen and silicon. Aluminium is found in its ore form of bauxite which is impure aluminium oxide. The major impurities are iron oxides, silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide.
Aluminium is extracted from bauxite by electrolysis. The ore is first converted into pure aluminium oxide by the Bayer Process. The aluminium oxide has a very high melting point to electrolyse on its own. Therefore, it is electrolysed in a solution in molten cryolite which is another aluminium compound. The second process where in the smelting the aluminium oxide is done to release pure aluminium is called the Hall-Heroult process.
Aluminium production is very energy intensive but its non-corrosive property makes it infinitely recyclable. Recycling aluminium uses only about 5% of the energy used compared to its extraction from bauxite. It is also a metal which has a lot of aesthetic appeal because of its colour.
Aluminium is used in components across industries for various purposes from aircraft parts to soft-drink cans. It finds itself used widely in the construction industry in high rises and extensively in door and window frames, automobile, aeronautical and shipping, infrastructure, transport, packaging industry, Industrial appliances, powerlines, consumer durables and FMCG industries. It has low density – lower than those of other common metals, at approximately one third that of steel, low permeability and is light and strong when alloyed and is non-toxic. It is nonmagnetic and non-sparking
Aluminium also has a high thermal conductivity and corrosion resistance. It can be easily cast, machined and formed and is also non-magnetic and non-sparking. It is the second most malleable metal and the sixth most ductile. Because of its high malleability it can be shaped or bent into any form.
Aluminium is a good electrical conductor and is often used in electrical transmission lines. It is cheaper than copper and weight for weight is almost twice as good a conductor than copper.
Aluminium when evaporated in a vacuum, forms a highly reflective coating for both light and heat. It does not erode or lose quality like other coatings would. This makes it useful in telescope mirrors and packaging
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