Back in 1808, sir Humphry Davy expressed his belief about the existence of a metal called aluminium (he used the word “alum”). Then he could not possibly imagine the evolution that would follow. Davy’s initial prediction became a reality in 1825. At that year, Danish physicist and chemist Hans Christian Ørsted managed to produce aluminium for the first time.
That was a gam-changing moment in aluminium’s history and it shaped in many different ways people’s daily life.
In particular, Ørsted isolated clear aluminium using aluminium chloride and potash amalgam. In order to achieve it, he heated the aluminium amalgam which he managed to produce under low pressure conditions and therefore the result was the production of aluminium at its first form.
What is aluminium and which was its use in ancient times?
Aluminium is one of the most important materials that humanity uses on earth. Also, it is the most abundant metal in its crust. The 8 % of earth’s crust is consisted of aluminium and is found combined in more than 270 minerals. The basic source for the industrial use of alumium is bauxite. This is a sedimentary rock that is a mixture of metal oxides. Bauxite received its name after the discovery of its fields near Les Baux fields by Pierre Berthier.
In ancient Greece and Rome people used bauxite-based combinations in ceramics. We read about aluminium for the first time (in its basic form as it was found in nature) by Herodotus on 5th century B.C. Ancient people, were familiar with aluminium forms. They used the material in weaving, medicine or on the fortresses for maintenance reasons (they used to paint fortress wood with this material in order to make them more robust).
The mass production
Before we come to present times with extensive aluminium production, we made many steps that altered the metal’s perception. It is an easy metal to its process and after the technological improvements, people managed to develop it and gain from its use. As we have already mentioned, aluminium’s source is bauxite. In order for the bauxite to be economically useful it needs alum in more than 55% to its consistency. Through the electrolysis process it is produced what we call “primary aluminium”.
Another method of aluminium production is through remelting aluminium scrap. Scrap is consisted of used aluminium parts (by old frames, soda cans, vehicle parts, etc).
The outcome of this process is the production of secondary aluminium, which preserves all the exceptional characteristics of the primary aluminium.
It is worth mentioning the ability of the metal to receive such a plethora of processing without losing its features. This in fact gave it enormous flexibility regarding its use. Also, aluminium’s ability to create a wide variety of alloys, contributed to its high usage not only in industry, but also in aeronautical engineering.
The age of aluminium
As they say we live in aluminium age. We use this material for our window frames and it is present in almost every aspect of our daily life. From large scale productions to transportation and from frame systems to electric devices and packaging, aluminium is everywhere improving our lives.
Additionally, it is a 100% recyclable material and this is a significant factor for a clear environment.
Especially in our times that all the countries unite in order to reduce the ecological footprint, aluminium constitutes a “green” metal, suitable for a wide variety of applications .
Humanity as we know it, would not be the same without this metal, in which sir Humphry Davy referred to on the dawn of 19th century. Now that the values of sustainability and circular economy shape the global discussions, aluminium is more relevant than ever!