The Future of Aluminum
Aluminum's Shiny, Metallic History
1746: Johann Heinrich Pott prepares alumina from alum.
1825: Hans Christian Oersted produces the first aluminum.
1886: Charles Martin Hall and Paul L. T. Heroult both use electrolysis to produce aluminum.
1888: Hall and his partners form what is now the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa).
1914: Aluminum demand soars during World War I.
1947: Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil hits the shelves.
1963: Coors introduces the first aluminum beverage can.
1968: The first U.S. can-recycling program begins.
2020: The International Aluminum Institute projects that the aluminum industry will be carbon neutral.
Primary production of aluminum requires tremendous energy. It also produces greenhouse gases that affect global warming. According to the International Aluminum Institute, manufacturing new stocks of aluminum releases 1 percent of the global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. A top industry priority is to decrease these emissions through reduction measures, increased recycling and the use of aluminum in vehicles, aircraft, watercraft and trains. In fact, using lightweight aluminum components in vehicles is one of the most significant advances in automotive design and manufacturing. Every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of heavier material that is replaced by aluminum results in the elimination of 22 kilograms (44 pounds) of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the vehicle [source: International Aluminum Institute].
Another promising application is the use of aluminum in fuel-cell-powered cars. Researchers at Purdue University recently discovered that aluminum could be used to produce hydrogen fuel efficiently. The process begins with aluminum pellets, which are mixed into liquid gallium to produce liquid aluminum-gallium. When water is added, the aluminum reacts with the oxygen to form a gel. Hydrogen gas, which can be collected and used to power a fuel cell, is also produced.
Innovations such as these will increase the demand for aluminum. And even though the metal is relatively young, it is one of the most important in the history of human civilization. When the archaeologists and anthropologists of tomorrow reflect on the society of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, they could very likely label it the Aluminum Age, placing it next to the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages as one of the most significant periods in human cultural development.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- What one thing should I recycle?
- How Recycling Works
- How Transparent Aluminum Armor Works
- What if I put aluminum foil in the microwave?
- Biting on aluminum foil can be painful. Why?
- What is in an antiperspirant that stops sweat?
- Is it possible to fix a blown fuse with a chewing gum wrapper?
- Top 10 Everyday Car Technologies that Came from Racing
More Great Links
- International Aluminum Institute Web Site
- Alcoa Web Site
- Novelis Web Site
- Can Manufacturers Institute
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Dept. of Health and Human Services. "What is Aluminum?" May 21, 2008. (Sept. 22, 2008)
- Alcoa. "Aluminum smelting." (Sept. 22, 2008)
- Alcoa. "It All Starts with Dirt." 2002. (Sept. 22, 2008)
- Bowman, Kenneth A. "Aluminum." World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia. 2004.
- Can Manufacturers Institute. "Beverage Can Data, 1970-2005." (Sept. 22, 2008)
- Dickson, T.R. "Introduction to Chemistry." John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1995.
- "European Automakers To Increase Use Of Aluminum." Autoparts Report, BNET Business Network. July 17, 2001. (Sept. 22, 2008)
- Fuller, Harry. "Aluminum, hydrogen and a fuel for our future?" CNET News. June 28, 2007. (Sept. 22, 2008)
- Hosford, William F. and John L. Duncan. "The Aluminum Beverage Can." Scientific American. September 2004.
- HyperPhysics. "Abundance of the Elements in the Earth's Crust." 2005. (Sept. 23, 2008)
- International Aluminum Institute. "About Aluminum." 2008. (Sept. 22, 2008)
- Investor's Business Daily. "Charles Martin Hall." Oct. 6, 2006. (Sept. 22, 2008)
- Levengood, Paul. "War emergency helped build Reynolds Metals." Virginia Business Magazine. May 2006. (Sept. 22, 2008)
- Robinson, Gregory H. "Aluminum." Chemical & Engineering News Web site. (Sept. 22, 2008)