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Aluminum (Al)

QUICK REFERENCE

  • Symbol: Al
  • Atomic Number: 13
  • Atomic Weight: 26.9815385
  • Element Classification: Post-transition Metal
  • Discovered By: Hans Christian Ørsted
  • Discovery Date: 1825 (isolated form)
  • Name Origin: Latin: ‘alumen’ (alum)
  • Density(g/cc): 2.70
  • Melting Point: 660.32°C
  • Boiling Point: 2519°C
  • Appearance: Silvery-white, lightweight metal
  • Atomic Radius(pm): 143

Discovery

Aluminum was first isolated by Hans Christian Ørsted in 1825 through a chemical process involving aluminum chloride. However, it was Friedrich Wöhler who improved the isolation process in 1827, producing aluminum in a purer form. Initially, aluminum was considered more precious than gold due to the difficulty of extracting it from its ores. The development of the Hall-Héroult process in 1886 by Charles Martin Hall and Paul Héroult independently made it possible to produce aluminum on a commercial scale, significantly reducing its cost.

Relation to Other Elements

Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust and is classified as a post-transition metal. It is known for its low density, high strength-to-weight ratio, resistance to corrosion (thanks to a protective oxide layer that forms on its surface), and excellent conductivity. Aluminum is often alloyed with other elements such as copper, magnesium, manganese, silicon, and zinc to enhance its properties for various applications.

Natural Occurrence

Aluminum does not occur in its metallic form in nature but is found combined in over 270 different minerals. The primary source of aluminum is bauxite ore, which contains a mixture of aluminum hydroxide minerals, including gibbsite, boehmite, and diaspore. The global production of aluminum is dominated by the mining of bauxite ore and its subsequent processing into alumina (aluminum oxide) through the Bayer process, followed by the reduction of alumina to aluminum metal via the Hall-Héroult process.

Uses

Aluminum’s applications are wide-ranging and integral to modern society:

  • Transportation: Aluminum is used extensively in the automotive, aerospace, and marine industries due to its high strength-to-weight ratio, improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions.
  • Packaging: Its resistance to corrosion and non-toxic nature make aluminum ideal for food and beverage packaging, including cans, foil, and bottle tops.
  • Construction: Aluminum’s durability, lightness, and resistance to corrosion are valued in building facades, window frames, and roofing.
  • Electrical: Due to its conductivity, aluminum is used in electrical transmission lines and is often alloyed with copper or other metals to enhance its properties.
  • Consumer Goods: Aluminum is found in a vast array of products, from household appliances to mobile phones and computers.

The discovery and subsequent widespread use of aluminum have had a profound impact on industry and daily life, making it one of the most important and versatile materials in use today. Its abundance, combined with its favorable physical and chemical properties, ensures its continued significance in various applications across multiple industries.

Magnesium (Mg)

Silicon (Si)