WHAT IS ALUMINIUM
Aluminium is the third most abundant element (after oxygen and silicon), and the most abundant metal, in the Earth's crust. It makes up about 8% by weight of the Earth's solid surface. Aluminium metal is so chemically reactive that native specimens are rare and limited to extreme reducing environments. Instead, it is found combined in over 270 different minerals. The chief ore of aluminium is bauxite.
Aluminium is remarkable for the metal's low density and for its ability to resist corrosion due to the phenomenon of passivation. Structural components made from aluminium and its alloys are vital to the aerospace industry and are important in other areas of transportation and structural materials.
Despite its prevalence in the environment, aluminium salts are not known to be used by any form of life. In keeping with its pervasiveness, aluminium is well tolerated by plants and animals. Owing to their prevalence, potential beneficial (or otherwise) biological roles of aluminium compounds are of continuing interest.
Aluminium is a relatively soft, durable, lightweight, ductile and malleable metal with appearance ranging from silvery to dull gray, depending on the surface roughness. It is nonmagnetic and does not easily ignite. A fresh film of aluminium serves as a good reflector (approximately 92%) of visible light and an excellent reflector (as much as 98%) of medium and far infrared radiation. The yield strength of pure aluminium is 7–11 MPa, while aluminium alloys have yield strengths ranging from 200 MPa to 600 MPa. Aluminium has about one-third the density and stiffness of steel. It is easily machined, cast, drawn and extruded.
Aluminium is a good thermal and electrical conductor, having 59% the conductivity of copper, both thermal and electrical, while having only 30% of copper's density. Aluminium is capable of being a superconductor, with a superconducting critical temperature of 1.2 Kelvin and a critical magnetic field of about 100 gauss (10 milliteslas).
Aluminium Chemical Properties
Corrosion resistance can be excellent due to a thin surface layer of aluminium oxide that forms when the metal is exposed to air, effectively preventing further oxidation. The strongest aluminium alloys are less corrosion resistant due to galvanic reactions with alloyed copper. This corrosion resistance is also often greatly reduced by aqueous salts, particularly in the presence of dissimilar metals.
Owing to its resistance to corrosion, aluminium is one of the few metals that retain silvery reflectance in finely powdered form, making it an important component of silver-colored paints. Aluminium mirror finish has the highest reflectance of any metal in the 200–400 nm (UV) and the 3,000–10,000 nm (far IR) regions; in the 400–700 nm visible range it is slightly outperformed by tin and silver and in the 700–3000 (near IR) by silver, gold, and copper.
ALUMINIUM IS A GREEN RECYCLABLE MATERIAL
Aluminium is theoretically 100% recyclable without any loss of its natural qualities. According to the International Resource Panel's Metal Stocks in Society report, the global per capita stock of aluminium in use in society (i.e. in cars, buildings, electronics etc.) is 80 kg. Much of this is in more-developed countries (350–500 kg per capita) rather than less-developed countries (35 kg per capita). Knowing the per capita stocks and their approximate lifespans is important for planning recycling.
Recovery of the metal via recycling has become an important use of the aluminium industry. Recycling was a low-profile activity until the late 1960s, when the growing use of aluminium beverage cans brought it to the public awareness.
Recycling involves melting the scrap, a process that requires only 5% of the energy used to produce aluminium from ore, though a significant part (up to 15% of the input material) is lost as dross (ash-like oxide). The dross can undergo a further process to extract aluminium.
In Europe aluminium experiences high rates of recycling, ranging from 42% of beverage cans, 85% of construction materials and 95% of transport vehicles.
Recycled aluminium is known as ‘secondary aluminium’, but maintains the same physical properties as primary aluminium. Secondary aluminium is produced in a wide range of formats and is employed in 80% of alloy injections. Another important use is for extrusion.
White dross from primary aluminium production and from secondary recycling operations still contains useful quantities of aluminium that can be extracted industrially. The process produces aluminium billets, together with a highly complex waste material. This waste is difficult to manage. It reacts with water, releasing a mixture of gases (including, among others, hydrogen, acetylene, and ammonia), which spontaneously ignites on contact with air; contact with damp air results in the release of copious quantities of ammonia gas. Despite these difficulties, the waste has found use as filler in asphalt and concrete.
Electric power represents about 20% to 40% of the cost of producing aluminium, depending on the location of the smelter. Aluminium production consumes roughly 5% of electricity generated in the U.S.
Smelters tend to be situated where electric power is both plentiful and inexpensive, such as the United Arab Emirates with excess natural gas supplies and Iceland and Norway with energy generated from renewable sources. The world's largest smelters of alumina are People's Republic of China, Russia, and Quebec and British Columbia in Canada.
In 2005, the People's Republic of China was the top producer of aluminium with an almost one-fifth world share, followed by Russia, Canada, and the USA, reports the British Geological Survey.
Over the last 50 years, Australia has become a major producer of bauxite ore and a major producer and exporter of alumina (before being overtaken by China in 2007). Australia produced 68 million tonnes of bauxite in 2010. The Australian deposits have some refining problems, some being high in silica, but have the advantage of being shallow and relatively easy to mine.