Aluminium is a highly versatile metal with many useful properties. First extracted in its pure form from ore in 1825 by Danish chemist Hans-Christian, aluminium was considered to be more valuable than gold due to the complexities and cost of the refinement process. Cost-effective refinement processes didn’t really appear until 1885, and since then, aluminium has become one of the most commonly used metals on the planet.
Aluminium shares many properties with steel, which means that many of the fabrication processes involved are very similar; it can be melted, cast, formed and machined using pretty much the same methods.
Similarly to stainless steel, aluminium is naturally corrosion-resistant thanks to a self-generating layer of oxides that protect the exposed surfaces from the environment. Additional surface treatments, such as anodising, can further improve the corrosion resistance of aluminium and aluminium alloys.
Aluminium is also a very lightweight metal; in fact, it’s about one third as heavy as steel, which helps to cut down costs during the manufacturing process. It also shows increased strength at low temperatures, unlike steel which becomes brittle, and it’s overall strength can be greatly modified by changing the composition of its alloys. It also has a low melting point and high ductility, making it a very malleable material; it can be processed in a wide variety of ways while still molten and allows it to be formed closer to the end-point of the production process.
Other important physical properties of aluminium include the fact that it is non-magnetic, will not produce sparks when in contact with other non-ferrous metals, yet it easily conducts heat and electricity, making it a wonderful material from many engineering standpoints. It is also non-toxic , impermeable and odourless, which makes it perfect for commercial, domestic and medical purposes. Think about the aluminium foil you wrap your sandwiches in!
Perhaps most importantly in today’s world, aluminium is 100% recyclable. It only takes about 5% of the original energy input used to create the metal as it does to re-melt it, and recycled aluminium is identical to the original material. This makes it a very cost effective material to use.