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Tuesday
Apr052011

material world: aluminum

Aluminium, or aluminum, is a silvery white chemical element that happens to be the third most abundant element after oxygen and silicon. It is however the most abundant metal since it accounts for about 8% of Earth’s solid surface weight.

Similar to iron, aluminum is extracted from other elements—mostly bauxite ore via electrolysis—and can be found combined in almost 300 different types of minerals.

photo by: libbyrosot

It’s one of the most versatile materials—lightweight and pliable as a thin sheet of foil, or dense, sturdy and heavy when cast.

Cast aluminum, left and below, is a fairly Medievil process where aluminum is heated to a liquid form, then carefully poured into a mold—or packed sand which has been shaped by a mold pressing.

It does however take time and talent to create the molds, to shave or sand off excess aluminum, to solder pieces together, then to polish the rough casting to a mirror-like finish.

photo by: außerirdische sind gesund

As an extruded aluminum tube, shown right, it falls in the middle since it’s lightweight and incredibly sturdy—making it an ideal material to use for furniture and bicycle frames.

With a melting point of 1220°F, aluminum is perfect for cookware and bakeware. Whether as a muffin cup, anodized aluminum pots or foil baking pans, they all conduct heat well but remain fairly cool.

Salts can oxidize the finish—actually creates a protective surface, passivation, which acts as a barrier and protects the aluminum underneath; and aluminum doesn’t rust so it’s particularly favored by the aerospace industry, for many types of outdoor furniture, and as aluminum siding and trim for buildings and homes.

photo by: blondewarningAluminum has been produced for commercial use for just over 100 years but during Napoleon III’s time—1848-1852—it was considered a precious metal even more valuable than gold.

During Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, beer can collections gained popularity and value when his brother Billy Carter introduced Billy Beer.

It was around that time that fully detachable tabbed openers gave way to the current attached version since many had been ‘stored’ in the can, then swallowed accidentally.

Since the late 1960s, when beverages switched from tin cans, aluminum has again achieved superior status since transportation costs are less due to the lighter weight and more recycling can be done instead of mining virgin aluminum.

100% recyclable with very little prep or stripping to be done, aluminum is one of the most recycled materials since it’s easy to gather, cost-effective to recycle—it takes about 5% of the energy to process vs producing virgin material—and when recycled, aluminum maintains most if not all of its natural properties.

Because of these inherent characteristics, a high percentage of cans, vehicles and construction materials, like siding, are consistently recycled throughout the world.