Aluminum

aluminum

The aluminum industry contributes $186 billion to the US economy and is one of only a few materials that impact the lives of every person in the country, also supporting over 700,000 American jobs. Aluminum is the ideal material to help with the needs and challenges faced by the changing dynamics of the 21st century with is unique characteristics of strength, lightweight, and recyclability. With issues of climate change and global warming, aluminum is helping increase green building production, fuel efficiency, and sustainable packaging.

The reliance on Aluminum began in the late 1900s and early 2000s when issues of climate change began to arise, and people began to look for new ways to “reduce their carbon footprint”, lower their emissions, etc… Aluminum was the perfect material for many different areas; one in particular is fuel efficiency. Aluminum is strong, but also low density, meaning lighter; when used in vehicles, aviation, and aerospace the fuel consumption drops immensely, less weight to move equals less fuel needed. In addition to its evolution of fuel efficiency, aluminum is very easily recyclable, reusing aluminum, secondary production, saves 90% of the energy cost associated with primary production. There is little to no issues surrounding the dependence of aluminum, with the ability to be recycled infinitely, aluminum is very valuable, in fact it is 4x as valuable as any other recyclable material. The only possible issues would be that it is more expensive than steel and requires special processes to be welded.

Aluminum has many positive aspects such as corrosion-resistant, colorable, lightweight, economical, strong, electrically conductive, non-magnetic, and recyclable. Unlike other metals, such as steel, when aluminum oxidizes the surface coat, which is clear, colorless, and non-staining resists anymore corrosion from air, water, and chemicals. Normal metals will oxidize and corrode, leading to weakening of metal and failure. Aluminum can hold paint and colors very well allow for aesthetically please buildings, vehicles, or cans. Aluminum is 1/3 the weight of steel which allows for great volume when shipping, lighter machines, and greater fuel efficiency. While aluminum is not the cheapest to manufacture it is more economical than other non-corrosive materials, such as brass or stainless steel. Aluminum is the best metal when it comes to strength-to-weight ratio, conducts electricity better than copper, and is also non-magnetic. Aluminum is 100% recyclable and can be recycled infinitely without losing any natural characteristic. Aluminum also has negatives such as more rare and expensive, prone to spring back, and requires special welding process. Aluminum is harder to find and manufacture than other metals, its elasticity can spring back more severely than other metals, and it requires more specialized processes to be welded together, which can lead to being more expensive.

Aluminum definitely has a positive impact on the commons from recyclability to lightweight to strength. Aluminum has the ability to be reused infinitely meaning that every piece of aluminum being extracted from the ground has the ability to be used forever without quality degradation. It’s lightweight along with strength makes aluminum the best strength-to-weight ratio of any metal, revolutionizing fuel efficiency, green/ sustainable buildings, etc… While it is one of few materials that effects humans every day, it is one of the most beneficial and useful materials in the world. Aluminum has stressors such as inhibiting plant growth due to toxicity. Aluminum is soluble in acidic soil and can be extremely toxic, this toxicity in the soil can inhibit crop production by stopping root elongation and therefore plant growth.

In spite of that stressor, the aluminum industry is a growing market, the introduction of aluminum into vehicles and aviation only took place a couple of years ago. There is so much room for growth with this material, and due to its infinite ability to recycle it will only grow in abundance; aluminum has carved out its niche in the world with transportation, green buildings, and sustainable production. The horizons for those industries alone are still growing, and with the infinite lifespan due to its recyclability aluminum there is no doubt people will find more uses for this material. It is amazing to think that an item that is already around us every single day is only just starting to be used to its fullest potential.

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One thought on “Aluminum

  1. Very interesting blog, I was not aware to how recent the change to aluminum taking over the metals market was. Aluminum, like any other material seems to have its pros and cons, good for the environment in one aspect, less fuel needed, but bad in another, toxic to plants in acidic soil. I also found it interesting that aluminum is infinitely recyclable. I think it would be interesting to dive deeper into that and find out what companies are doing to preserve aluminum so they don’t have to mine for it constantly. I would imagine recycling aluminum would be easier and better for the environment than mining but what are some of the costs of recycling? For example, you said that aluminum is more expensive to process, why is this and do those processes affect the environment? Are these the same processes used to turn recycled, scrap aluminum into reusable aluminum? Basically, what are the environmental affects of recycling and/or processing aluminum, i.e. exhaust from furnaces and forge machines etc.

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