Not long after it was first solidified by Friederich Woehler in 1845, it didn’t take long before aluminium also solidified its place as the most widely used non-ferrous metal. Always able to deliver high quality, cost-effective products, whether you’re looking at the appliances in your house or the planes in our air space, aluminium alloy is inseparable from our modernly constructed world. But what exactly is it about this metal’s composition that even today raises its global demand? For this entry of the Austen Knapman blog, we’ve listed the top benefits of aluminium to help you better appreciate this all important metal backbone of the modern world.
Easily the most remarkable facet of aluminium is its startlingly low density. At 2,700 kg/m3, this is one-third the volume mass of steel, yet the strength difference is evidently not enough to deter its usage. The basic scientific explanation for this is that whilst aluminium does have a low atomic mass, the majority of pieces you see everyday are alloys – instead it’s the unique crystal structure of the metal that dictates how closely packed its atoms are.
Untreated, aluminium boasts exceptional corrosion resistance; a handy attribute indeed for using it in building projects, with common alkaline-based materials such as mortar and concrete only leaving superficial damage on the material. When damaged mechanically, the oxide layer within aluminium repairs itself immediately, forming a thin but more than satisfactory layer that helps ward off future oxidation. This chemical phenomenon is called ‘passivation’, and helps make aluminium resistant to a variety of environmental factors.
Virtually all aluminium is alloyed – a process that considerably improves its mechanical properties, especially when tempered. Examples of commonly used alloys include the foil that springs to mind at any mention of aluminium, as well as the omnipresent drinks cans – both of which are actually alloys of 92% to 99% aluminium. The process in creating aluminium alloys involves adding elements such as copper, magnesium and zinc (and more besides), which whilst having a lower tensile strength than wrought alloys, are lighter and more weld-able, making the perfect material for essential engineering jobs such as aerospace manufacturing.
This is something we tend to repeat in nearly all our articles regarding aluminium, but the sustainable potential of aluminium is really something worth repeating. Material waste is a massive issue for our economy and environment, yet the recovery potential of aluminium is theoretically, no less than 100%. It is possible to reuse the metal without any loss of its natural qualities, and in practice this is usually done using up to 95% less energy than in the original production process. Furthermore, with its weather proof and aforementioned corrosion-resistant properties, aluminium is a solid environmental option for building construction, both in the here and now, and for the future.