In our modern society, we are surrounded by aluminum. It’s in our cars, boats and planes. It’s in our computers, our furniture, our tools, our office supplies, our buildings and even in our soda cans. Even so, few people ever stop to wonder where all this aluminum actually comes from, and if there is ever a danger of our aluminum supply running out. There is actually a bit of a journey that aluminum must take from its discovery to its final use as a household product, and it’s a journey that the metal sometimes takes over and over again.
Pulling Aluminum from the Ground
When dealing with most elements, harvesting them is simply a matter of finding them on or under the ground and extracting them. Aluminum is a little different however, as there are a few extra steps. First off, bauxite ore is mined, then it is chemically treated to become aluminum oxide. This aluminum oxide then gets smelted in a special process that leaves pure aluminum behind.
Obtaining Aluminum Through Recycling
In addition to “new” aluminum, there is also recycled aluminum, which makes up a good portion of our aluminum supply. The Aluminum Association reports that about 40 percent of the aluminum used in North America is recycled, and about 75 percent of the aluminum that has even been created is still in use. The process of recycling is fairly simple, basically involving just melting down aluminum and recasting it as something else. Aluminum cans are the most common material to be recycled.
While pure aluminum does get used in some applications, it is often alloyed with other elements to create special properties. Some of the elements it is commonly alloyed with include copper, zinc, magnesium, silicon and manganese. The alloys created can be very strong like 2014 aluminum or 1100 aluminum. They may be easier to machine or weld like 6061 aluminum or they may be more resistant to corrosion like 2124 aluminum.
To truly maximize the benefits of aluminum and its alloys, alclads are sometimes created. An alclad is basically a sandwich with corrosion-resistant pure aluminum on the outside and a high-strength aluminum alloy in the middle.
Aluminum’s long journey of course ends in finished products, and you can find those products at www.eagle-aluminum.com. Eagle Mouldings offers a great selection of pure and alloyed aluminum products for a number of different applications.