Welcome to the Aluminum Page
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Copper, lead and tin have been used by man for thousands of years. Aluminum, on the other hand, was not "discovered" until 1808 (less than 200 years ago) although early civilizations used aluminium-bearing clays to make pottery and aluminum salts were used in making dyes and medicines. In 1854 we learned how to produce aluminum commercially. Today, you can't live without it! Well, you could, but it would take a lot of getting used to for most of us!

Many items we take for granted simply would not exist if bauxite and aluminum had not been discovered. How many of these items constructed using aluminum do you use regularly?

Aluminum is a metallic element with the symbol Al. For more information about its atomic structure, weight etc, see our periodic chart of the elements. The primary ore mineral of aluminum is bauxite. It is plentiful and occurs mainly in tropical and sub-tropical areas such as Africa, the West Indies, South America and Australia. Bauxite contains all kinds of impurities - primarily metals such as iron - but consists of 45 percent to 60 percent aluminum oxide, or alumina. A major bauxite deposit in the US is located in Arkansas but is no longer mined commercially. Bauxite and alumina used in the US are imported primarily from Jamaica and Australia.

A total of about 29 million tons of aluminum is needed to meet worldwide demand each year. About 22 million tons of the total is new aluminum and 7 million tons is aluminum scrap that is recycled for reuse. The recycled material is equal to about 25% of the total amount of aluminum used worldwide.

FACT: 50% of the aluminum cans in the US today are products of recycling.

Aluminum - in its metallic form - does not exist naturally. It is found only in combination with other minerals in the form of silicate and oxide compounds which make up about 8 per cent of the earth's crust. Aluminum is the third most common crustal element and the most common crustal metal on earth. These mineral compounds are very stable and it took many years of research to find a way to remove the metal from the ore minerals in which it is found.

Aluminum can be very strong, light (less than one third the specific gravity of steel, copper or brass), ductile, and malleable. It is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Polished aluminum has the highest reflectivity of any material - even mirror glass. It can be cast, rolled or extruded into an infinite variety of shapes. It has unique barrier properties as a packaging material, it resists corrosion and it can be recycled again and again and again, with no loss of quality or properties. Mixed with small, often minute, quantities of other materials such as iron, silicon, zinc, copper, magnesium, tin, titamium, lithium, chromium, tungsten, manganese, nickel, zirconium and boron, it is possible to produce an array of alloys with very different physical properties.

How Aluminum is Produced

Producing aluminum is basically a two stage process consisting of several intermediate steps. First, using several mechanical and chemical stages, bauxite is refined to recover the alumina present using the "Bayer Process" named after Henry Bayer. Do you recognize that name?

Once the alumina - aluminum oxide trihydrate - is recovered, it can be electrolytically reduced (transformed by electrochemical means) into metallic aluminum.

NOTE: For a more detailed look at the process of recovering alumina from bauxite and converting it to aluminum, click on this button.

The History of Aluminum

The following are important dates in the history of the discovery of aluminum and in the progress of our knowledge and use of this important metal we depend on every day.

Information courtesy of Reynolds Aluminum, ALCOA Aluminum and the Aluminum Institute.

Page last updated 05/16/99