History of Aluminium and Alloys

Aluminium is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust and constitutes 7.3% by mass. In nature, however, it only exists in very stable combinations with other materials (particularly as silicates and oxides) and it was not until 1808 that its existence was first established. It took many years of painstaking research to “unlock” the metal from its ore and many more to produce a viable, commercial production process.

1808 Sir Humphrey Davy (Britain) established the existence of Aluminium and named it.

1821 P. Berthier (France) discovers a hard, reddish, clay-like material containing 52 per cent Aluminium oxide near the village of Les Baux in southern France. He called it bauxite, the most common ore of Aluminium.

1827 Freidrich Wöhler (Germany) describes a process for producing Aluminium as a powder by reacting potassium with anhydrous Aluminium chloride.

1845 Wöhler establishes the specific gravity (density) of Aluminium, and one of its unique properties – lightness.

1854 Henri Sainte-Claire Deville (France) improves Wöhler’s method to create the first commercial process. The metal’s price, initially higher than that of gold and platinum, drops by 90% over the following 10 years. The price is still high enough to inhibit its widespread adoption by industry.

1886 Two unknown young scientists, Paul Louis Toussaint Héroult (France) and Charles Martin Hall (USA), working separately and unaware of each other’s work, simultaneously invent a new electrolytic process, the Hall-Héroult process, which is the basis for all Aluminium production today.

1888 The first Aluminium companies founded in France, Switzerland and the USA.

Aluminium has only been produced commercially for 146 years and is still a very young metal. Mankind has been using copper, lead and tin for thousands of years and yet today more Aluminium is produced than all other non-ferrous metals combined. Annual primary production in 1999 was about 24 million tons and secondary – recycled – production to some 7 million tons. The total of some 31 million tons compares with 14.1 million tons of copper, 6.0 million tons of lead and 0.2 million tons of tin.

Properties

Pure Aluminium is a silvery-white metal with many desirable characteristics. It is light, nontoxic (as the metal), nonmagnetic and non-sparking. It is decorative. It is easily formed, machined, and cast. Alloys with small amounts of copper, magnesium, silicon, manganese, and other elements have very useful properties. Strength depends on purity. 99.996 per cent pure Aluminium has a tensile strength of about 49 megapascals (MPa), rising to 700 MPa following alloying and suitable heat treatment.

Although not found free in nature, Aluminium is an abundant element in the earth’s crust. A key property is low density. Aluminium is only one-third the weight of steel. Aluminium and most of its alloys are highly resistant to most forms of corrosion. The metal’s natural coating of Aluminium oxide provides a highly effective barrier to the ravages of air, temperature, moisture and chemical attack.

Aluminium is a superb conductor of electricity. This property allied with other intrinsic qualities has ensured the replacement of copper by Aluminium in many situations. Aluminium is non-magnetic and non-combustible, properties invaluable in advanced industries such as electronics or in offshore structures.

Aluminium is non-toxic and impervious, qualities that have established its use in the food and packaging industries since the earliest times. Other valuable properties include high reflectivity, heat barrier properties and heat conduction. The metal is malleable and easily worked by the common manufacturing and shaping processes. These properties can be very significantly altered with the addition of small amounts of alloying materials. Aluminium reacts with oxygen to form a microscopic protective film of oxide, which prevents corrosion. Aluminium in massive form is non-flammable. Finely divided particles will burn. Carbon monoxide or dioxide, Aluminium oxide and water will be emitted. This is a useful property for making rocket fuel.

Fabrication and Forms

H. Cross Company can provide Aluminium in 99.999% pure and alloyed forms including but not limited to types 1199, 1100, 2024, 5056 etc. in wire sizes from .005″ diameter up to .100″ diameter, strips and ribbons from .0005″ thick to .020″ thick and from .020″ to .100″ wide and in sheet or foil form from .0005″ thick to .020″ thick and up to 2″ wide. Please email us if you have needs outside of these ranges, as we will always try to be of assistance for your specific requests.

Sources

Aluminium ore, most commonly bauxite, is plentiful and occurs mainly in tropical and sub-tropical areas: Africa, West Indies, South America and Australia. There are also some deposits in Europe. Bauxite is refined into Aluminium oxide trihydrate (alumina) and then electrolytically reduced into metallic Aluminium. Primary Aluminium production facilities are located all over the world, often in areas where there are abundant supplies of inexpensive energy, such as hydro-electric power. Two to three tons of bauxite are required to produce one ton of alumina and two tons of alumina are required to produce one ton of Aluminium metal.

Uses

The following uses of Aluminium are gathered from a variety of sources.

  • Cans and foils
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Outside building decoration
  • Industrial applications where a strong, light, easily constructed material is needed
  • Although its electrical conductivity is only about 60% that of copper per area of cross section, it is used in electrical transmission lines because of its lightness and price
  • Alloys are of vital importance in the construction of modern aircraft and rockets
  • Aluminium, evaporated in a vacuum, forms a highly reflective coating for both visible light and radiant heat. These coatings soon form a thin layer of the protective oxide and do not deteriorate as do silver coatings. These coatings are used for telescope mirrors, decorative paper, packages, toys, and in many other uses
  • The oxide, alumina, occurs naturally as ruby, sapphire, corundum, and emery, and is used in glass making and refractories. Synthetic ruby and sapphire are used in the construction of lasers.

Packaging

Each H. Cross Company product is delivered in packaging specifically designed for the product’s application. As an example, wire is furnished on returnable plastic reels, each containing a single length of wire. Strips, Ribbons, Sheets and foils are flat packed to prevent damage during shipping. If required, H. Cross Company can adapt standard packaging methods or develop new ones for your special needs.