Without aluminum, we can not fly, travel with high-speed trains, fast ferries or drive cars with high performance. Without aluminum, we do not get heat and light into our homes and offices.
We depend on it to preserve our food and medicine, and to get electronic parts for our mobile phones and computers. The properties that make aluminum a valuable material are mainly low weight, strength, recycling rate, corrosion resistance, durability, flexibility, formability and conductivity.
The aluminum metal
Aluminum is a relatively new material. It is not more than 160 years since the element aluminum was discovered, and about 100 years since a feasible production process was established. Other materials, such as iron and copper, have been known and used for thousands of years.
Despite this, aluminum is today the most widely used metal after steel. Every year, more aluminum is produced than all other non-ferrous metals combined.
Aluminum is the third most widespread element - and makes up 8 percent of the earth's crust. The main reason why it was not discovered before is that aluminum does not occur naturally in metallic form. In most types of rock, clay, soil and vegetation, aluminum is present in chemical compounds with oxygen and other elements.
Physically, chemically and mechanically, aluminum is a metal, such as steel, brass, copper, zinc, lead and titanium. To a large extent, it can be melted, cast, shaped and machined in the same way as these metals, and it conducts electric current.
Aluminum alloys in compounds with small amounts of other chemicals can greatly improve some of the natural properties of the element. Aluminum and aluminum alloys have many properties that make them very competitive in a number of applications in almost all types of industrial activities.
The properties that make aluminum and aluminum alloys the most economical and attractive alternative for many types of use are in particular:
The density of aluminum is about one third (2.7 g / cm3) of the density of steel (7.83 g / cm3), copper (8.93 g / cm3) and brass (8.53 g / cm3). An aluminum component of one cubic meter weighs 2.7 tonnes, while a similar steel component weighs 7.8 tonnes.
With its excellent combination of strength and lightness, aluminum reduces the weight of aircraft, cars, buses, trucks and boats, resulting in less energy consumption and pollution from means of transport.
Not unexpectedly, the use of aluminum in trains, trams, subway cars, buses and boats is increasing rapidly, especially when it comes to bodywork and hulls.
Aluminum is resistant to the continuous oxidation that causes steel to rust. The unprotected aluminum surface combines with oxygen and forms an inert oxide film that inhibits further oxidation. Unlike iron rust, the oxide film does not peel off so that the next layer is exposed to oxidation. If you scrape off the protective layer on aluminum, it will be restored immediately. The thin oxide layer is tightly attached to the metal, and is colorless and transparent - making it invisible to the naked eye.
Aluminum surfaces can be highly reflective. Radiant energy, visible light, radiant heat and electromagnetic waves are effectively reflected, while anodized and dark, anodized surfaces can be reflective or absorbent. This is why aluminum are often chosen for various decorative and functional purposes, for example in building facades.
Aluminum has excellent electrical and thermal conductivity. It is neither ferromagnetic, self-igniting, nor toxic, and looks attractive in its natural finish. Aluminum is ideal as a packaging material for food, beverages and pharmacy products.
Aluminum foil, which after rolling has a thickness of only 0.007 mm, is still completely impermeable, and does not allow light, aroma or taste to escape or enter. Because the metal itself is not toxic, it does not emit aromas or flavors. Aluminum is therefore ideal as packaging for food, beverages and pharmacy products.
Formability is one of the most important properties of aluminum and many of its alloys. Certain aluminum alloys have almost the same level of strength as structural steels. While aluminum has a similar specific modulus of elasticity as steel, the absolute modulus of elasticity is about one-third of that of steel. In construction technology, this means major shape changes, but this can be rectified by optimizing advanced construction of the cross section. Then so optimization usually involves a weight reduction compared to steel, the optimized cross section may be larger than for steel. Unlike steel, many aluminum alloys can be extruded, giving planners a wider range of possible cross-sections.
Most aluminum alloys have excellent machinability. Aluminum can be joined together in a variety of ways, including fusing and welding, brazing, soldering, gluing, and mechanical methods such as riveting and bolting.
Aluminum can be recycled indefinitely without changing its properties. In addition, aluminum is a valuable metal, even as scrap for reuse. Recent studies have shown that up to 95 percent of the aluminum content in vehicles, and 93 percent of it in buildings, mainly in cladding walls, can be recycled. This also provides future business opportunities, since buildings will become "urban mines" for future generations, enabling an entire recycling cycle and a 95 percent cut in energy consumption in production compared to primary aluminum production.
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