We use aluminum on a day-to-day basis. To be honest, it is pretty hard to even imagine our daily lives without this element. So, this element is nothing short of a wonder. In this article on aluminum facts, we will learn about the element in detail.
When we say details, we mean the history of aluminum discovery, its properties, its physical appearance and more. So, without further ado, let us begin.
To start with, let us get some quick information about the metal…
|Element Name||Aluminum or Aluminium|
|Element Family||Basic Metal|
|Atomic Weight||26.98154 g/mol|
|Melting Point||933.57 K or 660.32°C|
|Boiling Point||2740.00 K or 2466.85°C|
|Density at 20°C||2.702 g/cm3|
|Number of Electrons||13|
|Number of Protons||13|
|Number of Neutrons (as found in most abundant isotope)||14|
|Electronic Configuration||1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p1|
|Known Isotopes||24 isotopes known so far and 4 isomers|
|Element Structure||Face-Centered Cubic|
|Atomic Radius||125 pm|
Aluminum Facts: Known Isotopes
|Isotope Name||Type and Abundance||Half Life (HL)|
|26Al||Radioactive but Naturally OccurringAbundance: <0.1%||7.17×105 years|
|27Al||Stable and Naturally Occurring Abundance: > 99.9%||Does not decay and hence, no HL|
|40Al||Radioactive||10 ms *|
|41Al||Radioactive||2 ms *|
* means that the data has been derived partly from systematic trends and is not purely experimental data.
Aluminum Facts: Isomers of Aluminum
|Isomers||Type and Abundance||HL|
Now that we have our tables in place, let us start with the facts:
Aluminum Facts: 1-5
1. Aluminum has always been in use since ancient times. The only thing – it was never used in pure elemental form during those days. The compound of aluminum that was in use was known as alum.
2. Alum is nothing but potassium aluminum sulfate which has a number of applications such as stopping bleeding, tanning, dyeing etc.
3. It was only in the 1750s that a stunning discovery was made by Andreas Marggraf – a chemist from Germany. He noticed that when alum was dropped into an alkaline solution, a new substance precipitated.
4. That was as far as Marggraf could go but he was the one who had previously isolated zinc. Anyway, the new substance that Marggraf managed to precipitate was named as alumina by Louis de Morveau by a French chemist. Today we know that alumina is basically aluminum oxide with a chemical formula of Al2O3.
5. Unfortunately, just like Marggraf, Morveau was also unable to isolate aluminum but he strongly believed that what Marggraf had found had a metallic element hidden in it.
Aluminum Facts: 6-10
6. Then came Humphry Davy – a chemist from England who used an electric arc for decomposing alumina and managed to get a metal. This happened in 1807 or in 1808. Davy first named the metal as aluminum and only later named it as aluminum.
7. Hold on! Davy wasn’t the person who isolated aluminum. He actually managed to get an alloy of iron and aluminum. Isolation of aluminum didn’t take place until 1825.
8. The feat of isolating aluminum was achieved in Copenhagen, Denmark by Hans Christian Ørsted. He used potassium-mercury amalgam for reducing aluminum chloride and what was left behind was aluminum mixed with mercury.
9. In order to remove mercury, Ørsted heated the end result and mercury was removed, leaving behind pure aluminum that he referred to as a lump of metal that closely resembled tin in both luster and color.
10. Unfortunately, Ørsted was not credited with the discovery of aluminum. This is because of Friedrich Wöhler – a German chemist. Wöhler tried reproducing Ørsted’s experiment only to get potassium metal. So, he took two more years to refine the process of aluminum extraction.
Aluminum Facts: 11-15
11. What Wöhler did was that he used potassium and reacted it with volatilized aluminum trichloride. Aluminum was produced as an end result, but in very small quantities.
12. Berzelius in 1856 said that since Wöhler could not replicate Ørsted’s experiment, but managed to isolate aluminum on his own using a separate method, Wöhler is the one who discovered aluminum in 1827.
13. So, Wöhler was given the credit of discovering the element. However, more recently came Fogh. He managed to repeat Ørsted’s experiment and found satisfactory results. So, priority of Ørsted increased and his position as the aluminum discoverer improved.
14. After Ørsted and Wöhler, aluminum was produced, but only in small quantities because potassium that was used for the production was really expensive.
15. In 1854 came Henri Saint-Claire Deville from Paris in France. He managed to make the production of aluminum inexpensive by using sodium instead of potassium.
In 1886 came chemists Paul Héroult from France and Charles Martin Hall from America. They independently devised the same method of isolating aluminum from alum using electrolysis. This method is today known as Hall-Héroult process.
Aluminum Facts: 16-20
16. As far as harmful effects of Aluminum are concerned, there is no documented knowledge on this. However, scientists have the opinion that ingesting aluminum can lead to Alzheimer’s Disease.
17. Pure aluminum is silvery-white in color. It is a paramagnetic element. This means that its magnetism is very very weak under normal conditions, and hence, it will not stick with magnets.
18. The element is extremely reactive, and this means that it is really hard to find pure aluminum metal in nature. However, there are rare instances where pure aluminum has been found in nature.
19. The element is highly ductile and has low density. It is also a very good (actually excellent) conductor of electricity.
20. Though aluminum is silvery-white in color in its pure form, what we usually see is a dull appearance when it is left out in open air. This happens because the element reacts with air to form aluminum oxide, which forms a protective coating on the element to prevent corrosion.
Aluminum Facts: 21-25
21. The thin film of aluminum oxide that forms on pure aluminum when left in open air can be easily thickened using oxidizing agents or electrolysis. Once the film is thickened, it makes aluminum resistant to concentrated nitric acid, dilute alkalis and dilute acids.
22. Aluminum is pretty unique. It displays properties of both metals and nonmetals. It behaves like typical metals when it reacts with acids and produces hydrogen and Al3+ (a positively charged metal ion).
23. It also reacts with hot alkalis and behaves like non-metals forming aluminate ions [Al(OH)4]–. Because aluminum behaves both like metals and non-metals, it is known as amphoteric.
24. In case you didn’t know (or perhaps you have already observed from the first table above), aluminum is actually pretty soft and lacks strength. On Mohs scale, it has a hardness of 2.8
25. So, in order to make use of aluminum in commercial applications, the element is always mixed with small amounts of iron and silicon (less than 1%). This improves the strength and hardness of the metal significantly, and hence, makes it usable in commercial applications.
Aluminum Facts: 26-30
26. Aluminum is really abundant. In Earth’s crust, this element makes up 8.23% by weight. In terms of moles, it makes up 6.32% of the crust of Earth.
27. In the entire solar system, abundance of aluminum is 56 ppm by weight and in terms of moles it has an abundance of 2.7 ppm.
28. Wondering just how much those figures mean? In Earth’s crust, it THE MOST ABUNDANT METAL. If we look at MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENT in Earth’s crust, aluminum takes the third spot just after oxygen and silicon.
29. We mentioned earlier that aluminum is too reactive to be obtained in pure form in Earth’s crust. It is actually found in the form of various compounds of which aluminum oxide or alum is the most abundant ore.
30. Aluminum is also produced in heavy stars. It is formed during fusion reactions in which magnesium is known to pick up an additional proton to form aluminum. Magnesium in turn is first produced by fusion reaction is stars where two carbon atoms fuse together to form magnesium.
Aluminum Facts: 31-35
31.We learned earlier that the discovery of aluminum was really difficult, and hence, its cost was very high. It was in the mid 19th century known as the Metal of Kings.
32. Just how costly was aluminum? Well, a kilo of aluminum was priced at USD 1,200 back in 1852. Compared to this, gold was cheaper at USD 664 a kilo.
33. In 1854, the price of aluminum went down a little because potassium used in aluminum production was replaced by a cheaper alternative – the sodium. By 1859, the price of aluminum had gone all the way down to USD 37 a kilo.
34. As of today, aluminum is produced or extracted from its ore using the Hall-Héroult process where electricity is used. This is a method of mass production. After the introduction of this process, the price of the element went all the way down to USD 1.20 per kilogram by 1895.
35. As far as Hall-Héroult process of extracting aluminum is concerned, it requires a lot of energy. 1 metric ton of aluminum can be extracted from 17.4 megawatt hours of electrical energy. In comparison, only 1/3rd of that power is required for producing the exact same amount of steel.
Aluminum Facts: 36-40
36. When it comes to recycling aluminum, the amount of electricity required is far far less. Only 5% of the energy is consumed in recycling the same amount of aluminum (1 metric ton).
37. We know that aluminum doesn’t rust when left open in air. It only forms a thin layer of aluminum oxide on the surface, preventing further corrosion. However, there is a way for making aluminum rust. It has to be oxidized using mercury.
38. Do you know the name of the primary ore that is used for extraction of aluminum? It is known as Bauxite.
39. Rubies! Aren’t they beautiful? Did you know that rubies are actually aluminum oxide crystals with a few atoms of aluminum replaced by a few chromium atoms, giving rubies their characteristic color?
40. Chou-Chu was a general of ancient China during the third century. Upon digging his tomb, historians found a piece of jewelry. 85% of the material of the jewelry was actually aluminum.
This has left historians wondering exactly how the aluminum was extracted back then. So yes, while credit for discovery of aluminum goes to Europeans, ancient people did it a long time back.
Aluminum Facts: 41-45
41. Is it aluminum or is it aluminium? In 1990, the name that was adopted by IUPAC was aluminium. However in 1993, the name was changed to aluminum. Even to this day, you can find the word ‘aluminium’ in use and it is absolutely correct.
42. Ever wondered who are the largest producers of aluminum in this world? When it comes to production of the metal, Australia, Brazil and China lead the world. Australia stands first.
43. Ever wondered who are the largest producers of aluminum ore in this world? When it comes to aluminum ore, the largest suppliers are Guinea, Australia and Vietnam.
44. Did you know that aluminum is almost completely recyclable? That makes its one of the most incredible metals ever known.
45. Ever wondered why aluminum extraction requires so much of electricity? That’s because the ores that are usually used for aluminum extraction have a very high melting point. This makes it really difficult to extract aluminum, and hence, more electricity requirements.
Aluminum Facts: 46-50
46. Whether it is extraction of aluminum or just recycling, a byproduct is produced. That byproduct is known as white dross. White dross is extremely combustible and it is usually used in asphalt and concrete production.
47. Aluminum has the amazing ability of reflecting 98% of infrared rays and 92% or visible light.
48. At one time, as we said earlier, aluminum was extremely expensive and precious. It is because of this Napoleon III of France used aluminum plates for serving state dinner.
49. In America every year, people just throw away enough aluminum that can be used for building the whole fleet of commercial planes in the US.
50. Soft drinks cans that we throw away quite often – do you know how long their shelf life is? It is very little. As per Aluminum Association, most of those cans get recycled into new cans and hit the shelves in just 60 days or less.
Aluminum Facts: 51-55
51. According to the Aluminum Association, some of the parts of the airplane’s engine that Wright Brothers used were made of aluminum. That’s because no engine manufacturer was capable of giving engines that were lightweight and still packed the needed horsepower. So, thanks to aluminum, we have airplanes today.
52. Talking of airplanes, did you know that a single Boeing-747 aircraft contains more than 66,000 kilograms or 147,000 pounds of aluminum.
53. Did you know that 75% of all aluminum ever produced in this world is in use even today?
55. Aluminum that is used in this world is almost always in alloy format even though the aluminum alloy can actually contain up to 99% aluminum.
Aluminum Facts: 56-60
56. Did you know that wire conduits made of aluminum do not spark like steel wire conduits. Such wires are also corrosion resistant, and hence, aluminum plays a very important role in electrical appliances.
57. Aluminum foil is capable of completely blocking bacteria, moisture, light and air, and hence, it is extensively used in food packaging and pharmaceutical packaging industries.
58. Pound for pound, the capability of aluminum in absorbing crash energy is two times that of steel, and hence, crash rails of vehicles are usually made of aluminum. These aluminum crash rails are capable of folding up like accordion, dissipating and directing away impact force from the occupant of the vehicle.
59. Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) is a next-generation space exploration vehicle of NASA that will make use of aluminum as the major metal for the structure. Lockheed Martin will build the spacecraft using aluminum-lithium.
60. ‘Journey to the Moon’ was a Sci-Fi work by Jules Verne where he described an aluminum space rocket. He did that in 1865. It was long before the Hall-Héroult process of extracting aluminum was discovered. Commercial use of the metal and that too in space science came much later!