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Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Bryson Pantoja
Aluminum: The Magic Metal
Aluminum is such a highly versatile material because no other metal has all the properties of aluminum. Some properties of aluminum that make it such a popular choice for making so many items are that aluminum is light weight and as strong as steel if alloyed correctly.
such as soda. Aluminum also has thermal conductivity, and thus can spread both heat and cooling quickly. Perhaps best of all (at least for the environment), aluminum is easily recyclable, which means that little aluminum is wasted. On a quick side note: aluminum does conduct electricity quite well; twice as well as copper, in fact. Unfortunately, aluminum oxide, does not. You can also be sure that, if you have aluminum electrical wiring, it will oxidize. What this means for you: move out of a house with aluminum electrical wiring as soon as possible, because when your wiring oxidizes, it will no longer conduct electricity, but continue to conduct heat. This will start a fire in your house as soon as enough heat is built up in the wiring.
The main source of aluminum in the world comes from an ore specimen called bauxite. Bauxite is primarily composed of aluminum oxide and aluminum hydroxide.
Photo Courtesy of Roger Weller
Bauxite can come in a few different colors such as grey, white, yellow, or red,
and usually has a dull, earthy luster, or look, to it. To turn bauxite into the
usable metal aluminum, the Bayer process is used. The Bayer process involves
crushing the bauxite and milling the alumina (also known as aluminum oxide) into
smaller chunks that are easier to extract. The alumina is then extracted, and
the Hall (sometimes called the Hall-Héroult) process is then implemented.
Photos Courtesy of Roger Weller
process consists of dissolving the extracted alumina in molten cryolite, and
then passing an electric current through it. Most (31 percent) of the United
States’ bauxite comes from Jamaica. However, other major sources are Guinea (22
percent), Brazil (19 percent), and Guyana (12 percent). The remaining 16% comes
from many other countries.
In conclusion, aluminum has many uses which include household, construction, transportation, and packaging purposes. It is a light weight and, if alloyed correctly, extremely hard material. This makes it extremely versatile and invaluable to almost all industries. It is also cheap and abundant, which is why the metal can be used by so many industries. Aluminum is primarily gotten from bauxite, an earthy rock that is the main source of aluminum in the world. So, the next time you look at a car, an airplane, or even your fork, don’t be surprised to find yourself saying, “Wow, what a metal!”
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Weller, Roger. “Aluminum Oxide Interview” Interview by Bryson P. Pantoja. Personal Interview.