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Aluminium

Aluminium

Aluminium is the world’s most abundant metal and is the third most common element, comprising 8% of the earth’s crust. The versatility of aluminium makes it the most widely used metal after steel. Although aluminium compounds have been used for thousands of years, aluminium metal was first produced around 170 years ago. In the 100 years since the first industrial quantities of aluminium were produced, worldwide demand for aluminium has grown to around 29 million tons per year. About 22 million tons is new aluminium and 7 million tons is recycled aluminium scrap. The use of recycled aluminium is economically and environmentally compelling. It takes 14,000 kWh to produce 1 tonne of new aluminium. Conversely it takes only 5% of this to remelt and recycle one tonne of aluminium. There is no difference in quality between virgin and recycled aluminium alloys. Pure aluminium is soft, ductile, corrosion resistant and has a high electrical conductivity. It is widely used for foil and conductor cables, but alloying with other elements is necessary to provide the higher strengths needed for other applications. Aluminium is one of the lightest engineering metals, having a strength to weight ratio superior to steel. By utilising various combinations of its advantageous properties such as strength, lightness, corrosion resistance, recyclability and formability, aluminium is being employed in an ever-increasing number of applications. This array of products ranges from structural materials through to thin packaging foils. Aluminium has a density around one third that of steel and is used advantageously in applications where high strength and low weight are required. This includes vehicles where low mass results in greater load capacity and reduced fuel consumption. When the surface of aluminium metal is exposed to air, a protective oxide coating forms almost instantaneously. This oxide layer is corrosion resistant and can be further enhanced with surface treatments such as anodising. Aluminium is an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity. The great advantage of aluminium is that by weight, the conductivity of aluminium is around twice that of copper. This means that aluminium is now the most commonly used material in large power transmission lines. Aluminium is a good reflector of both visible light and heat making it an ideal material for light fittings, thermal rescue blankets and architectural insulation.

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