Aluminium is perhaps one of the most common metals found in Earth’s crust next to oxygen and silicon. Aluminium also exists as the 13th element in the periodic table.
Similar to iron, aluminium is rarely found in its pure form because it is mixed with other atoms in ore rock and because on its own it is not strong or stable.
On its own it is a silvery gray but when exposed to air it turns white quite quickly. It takes a long time to rust and is one of the lightest of all types of metal.
Out of the many types of rock or soil that contain aluminium, the rock bauxite contains the most amount of aluminium oxide (aluminium plus oxygen). Apart from bauxite, aluminium is found in granite, clay and other minerals.
Bauxite is found mostly in Brazil and Papua New Guinea, which contribute towards about 21 tonnes of aluminium a year.
Sir Humphrey Davy discovered aluminium as far back as 1807 and by the 1820s man had learned how to refine the compound. Industries started using aluminium by the 1880s.
One of the earliest uses of aluminium after it was industrially put to use was the cap on top of the Washington Monument, which is made from solid aluminium.
It is a natural, strong, silver coloured lightweight metal, which has an advantage over iron in that it does not rust damage. It is often mixed with iron, copper or zinc to make it stronger.
It has been used to build aeroplanes from the 1920s, and the 183 lb satellite, Sputnik 1 that was launched into outer space in 1957 was built from aluminium.
Even though aluminium was discovered quite recently compared with many other types of metal, recycling the metal began by the 1970s.
During the most part of the 20th century, aluminium became quite popular especially in the transportation industry.
The main reason for this shift from steel parts to aluminium parts in vehicles and planes is that steel is heavier and therefore takes up more energy to move. Aluminium does not take up as much energy and is considered fuel-efficient.
In the 21st century so far the world has seen aluminium scooters, bottles and drinking cans and the most recent aluminium product in 2004, the Apple iPod.
The construction industry uses a lot of aluminium to build houses, offices, stadiums, bridges and highways.
Aluminium is great for energy conservation. Because it is so strong and easily recyclable tin cans, aluminium vehicle parts (found in junk yards), and even parts of aluminium buildings are recycled repeatedly.
It is a huge energy saver and it is said that recycling one aluminium (drink) can helps keep a light bulb burning for four hours.
Unlike the dangers associated when working in the iron industry, the aluminium industry is quite safe to work in, although workers must still take all the healthy precautions.
Recycling aluminium is more environmentally friendly because the process and effort needed to extract the bauxite deposits from the ground is far tougher.