Aluminum: the most widely used non-ferrous metal

Aluminum is present throughout our daily lives as part of many familiar objects: light bulbs, fluorescent tubes, decorations, furniture… But do you know why — its main characteristics, desirable traits and uses in industry? In this post, we give you all the details.

First of all, what are non-ferrous metals?

Non-ferrous metals are those that do not contain iron. The most common ones are silver, gold, platinum, copper and its alloys, tin, lead, palladium, platinum, aluminum, zinc and titanium. Compared to ferrous metals, they have advantages such as lower weight, high conductivity, high corrosion resistance and non-magnetism, among others.

Basic facts about aluminum

Aluminum is a chemical element with atomic number 13; that is, its atoms have 13 protons in their nuclei. Its symbol on the periodic table is Al. It is softer than other metals and has a lower melting point.

At room temperature, aluminum is a solid, and it is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust. It is also the third most prevalent element on the planet, after oxygen and silicon, as it can be found as part of various minerals. Despite this, it can only be extracted from bauxite by transforming it into alumina and then by electrolysis.

Although it is one of the most widely used metals today, it has been used for millennia in the form of alum. It was in 1854 that Henri Sainte-Claire Deville managed to obtain it as a metal, after Hans Christian Oersted had isolated it in 1825 and Friedrich Wöhler had succeeded in producing it in powdered form in 1827.

Properties of aluminum

It is no coincidence that aluminum is one of the most widely used metals in industry and in the world at large — the list of its beneficial properties is quite long. The following advantages stand out in particular:

  • It is light: It has a weight of about 2.7 g/cm3.
  • It is resistant, and can also be alloyed.
  • It is a good conductor: It has high conductivity of both heat and electricity.
  • It is highly ductile, and its density and melting point are very low.
  • It is waterproof, that is, it does not allow the passage of any kind of moisture or liquid.
  • It is odorless.
  • It is a good reflector of light and heat. This makes it perfect, for example, for constructing incandescent or fluorescent lights.
  • It is eco-friendly: Aluminum is a fully recyclable metal.
  • Low toxicity: This makes it ideal for use in the food industry, as well as for constructions where sustainability and low environmental impact are a priority.

Uses of aluminum in industry

As we have already mentioned, aluminum is widely used in many industries due to its beneficial properties. Thus, we find it in:

Energy Industry

Thanks to its high conductivity and low cost, it is increasingly used in high-voltage lines, replacing copper. It is also used in antennas, solar panels and satellites, for example — in part, due to its good resistance to corrosion.

Food Industry

It is used, for example, in the cans for canned food, in yogurt lids, or the foil we use to cover dishes and casseroles. It is widely used because it can preserve and insulate food for long periods of time.

Construction Industry

Due to its high strength and light weight, aluminum is perfect for use in construction. It is often used in conjunction with glass, for example, whether for homes, office buildings or factories.

Transportation Industry

In railway infrastructure, the use of aluminum has been very common for several years. It is also used for automobile parts, such as transmission cases and wheel rims, as well as on buses, airplanes and even ships. Importantly, it is also a very light material, which helps to reduce fuel consumption.
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