In the 19th century, Aluminum was discovered and since then it has been in demand. It is the most abundant metal on the earth, but it is not found in pure form. That’s why scientists struggled to separate it from other elements until the modern method of extracting aluminum was developed in the year 1886. Then, it went on to become a dominant metal in the aviation and space industry because of its lightweight. Today, aluminum has vast applications including high-rise buildings, consumer electronics, trains, vehicles, household appliances, industrial appliances, and so on.
Now that we have covered a short overview of this metal, let’s explore its advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Aluminum
Aluminum has desirable physical properties, making it the most widely used metal in modern society, and the following are some of its advantages.
It is lightweight
The current market situation demands that companies lower CO₂ (Carbon dioxide) emissions, so there is an increasing need for light materials. Aluminum is a lightweight metal with a low density of 2.7 kg per dm3. Because of this, it is used in industries where weight saving is crucial. It has practical applications in the aerospace industry providing lightweight and high strength to flights undergoing high levels of stress. In the automotive industry, aluminum is used to create lighter cars to improve fuel efficiency.
Aluminum is flexible and versatile
Along with being lightweight, aluminum is also durable. This makes it the most flexible metal to work with. It can be easily formed to take desired shapes through various techniques. With aluminum, milling, drilling, bending, welding, machining, and cutting are all feasible. Therefore, it is used in artwork and kitchen fitting.
Additionally, it is used in every sector to design futuristic products. Take consumer electronics, for instance. Aluminum is used to create sophisticated designs, and the best part is that it combines beauty with practicality. Similarly, this versatile metal is used in diverse areas including ships, trains, home appliances, and personal vehicles.
It is corrosion-resistant and durable
Aluminum is highly corrosion-resistant, thanks to aluminum oxidation. What happens here is, that the metal forms a thin layer of oxidation naturally when it comes in contact with oxygen or any other oxidizing agent. This protective coating further shields it from the outdoor air, therefore making it corrosion-resistant.
The benefit of high corrosion resistance is a longer lifespan of the material. As mentioned, aluminum is highly durable. Moreover, the corrosion resistance can be reinforced, ensuring aluminum lasts for decades in industrial applications. Additionally, by anodizing aluminum, the overall corrosion resistance can also be enhanced further.
Aluminum is recyclable
The fun fact about aluminum is that it can be recycled without any loss of quality. This is to say, it is 100% recyclable and retains its original properties. Plus, recycling aluminum only takes around 5% of the energy needed to make a new one. This process saves money and reduces carbon emissions. Also, there is a rise in demand for aluminum products with an increasing population. Mining more aluminum alone cannot satisfy the growing demand. That’s where recycling comes into the picture, bridging the gap between demand and supply, and thus ensuring continuous production.
Facts about Aluminum recycling
- Aluminum recycling is an environmentally friendly process that contributes to sustainability.
- Recycling aluminum reduces the need for mining more of the material and the associated environmental impacts.
- The recycling of aluminum plays a significant role in conserving natural resources.
- It helps in reducing landfill waste, thus greatly contributing to waste management efforts.
- Also, aluminum recycling supports the circular economy by promoting the reuse of materials in various industries.
It is a good conductor of heat and electricity
Aluminum is the primary choice in major power transmission lines. The reason is that it’s an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Even though the conductivity of aluminum is only 60% of copper by volume, it has twice the electrical current carrying capacity of copper by weight. This is to say, the amount of electrical resistance in half the wire of aluminum will be the same as copper wire. Consequently, it is replacing copper with the added benefit of being cost-effective.
It has applications in electrical power cables, connectors, and circuit breakers. Additionally, the powerful conductivity of aluminum has applications in cooling and heating systems. This metal is a good reflector of visible light and heat radiation. Thus, the aluminum coating is used in roofs to reduce internal solar heat within a house. Lastly, it is also used as a heat sink in various applications including computer motherboards, LED lights, and electrical products.
Aluminum is impermeable
You might have used aluminum foil to pack foods for outings. The reason for the application is its impermeability, keeping the moisture, gases, and volatile aroma away from the packed food. To be specific, the aluminum foil is 0.007 mm in thickness. Plus, it is odorless and non-toxic, making it a perfect choice for packaging pharmaceuticals and food.
Disadvantages of Aluminum
Even though the benefits of aluminum outweigh its drawbacks, they are still worth taking a look at. Here is the list of downsides of aluminum.
It is expensive compared to steel
Undoubtedly, aluminum is cost-effective, but in comparison to steel, it can be costly. Aluminum takes the same stress as steel. With that in mind, using aluminum instead of steel to design the same structure can increase the expense of the projects.
Welding aluminum is a difficult process
Irrespective of all the benefits, the welding process of aluminum is still a tedious one. Firstly, it has a comparatively lower melting point than other metals. Thus, the material tends to burn before it can be melted. Secondly, aluminum has high thermal expansion leading to serious problems in the welding process.
Additionally, in the molten state, aluminum absorbs hydrogen and when it returns to solid form, the bubbles are left behind, thus making it porous. Then, it has a great affinity to oxygen, meaning to begin the welding process the oxides need to be cleaned. All these in combination make aluminum challenging to work with. Industrial robots made this process much easier over time.
This video shows the welding process of aluminum –
It is weaker than steel
Aluminum has a good strength-to-weight ratio, but when only strength is taken into consideration, steel takes the spotlight. Ergo, for projects where weight is not an issue, steel is used instead of aluminum. Also, aluminum is ductile and highly malleable, but this becomes a drawback as structures built with aluminum can be easily dented and scratched. This once again makes steel a favorable choice for projects that require stronger structures.
A big drawback of using aluminum involves fastener joints. Fastener joints involving aluminum are likely to experience galvanic corrosion. It happens when aluminum is connected with a dissimilar metal, for example, steel. Such corrosion happens when these metals are exposed to an electrolyte, which causes the aluminum to corrode fast. This compromises the integrity of the joint, which can lead to a potential structural failure.
To prevent the damage from happening, one must take anti-corrosion preparations before assembling the metals. One can do isolating coatings, which prevents the metals from coming into direct contact and mitigates the corrosion process.
A Quick Comparison of Advantages and Disadvantages of Aluminum
|Aspect||Advantages of Aluminum||Disadvantages of Aluminum|
|Weight||Lightweight, with a low density of 2.7 kg per dm3.||Weaker than steel, especially when strength is the primary concern.|
|Versatility||Flexible and versatile, can be easily shaped and formed.||Welding aluminum is a challenging process due to its low melting point and high thermal expansion.|
|Corrosion Resistance||Highly corrosion-resistant, forms a protective oxidation layer.||Fastener joints involving aluminum can experience galvanic corrosion.|
|Recyclability||100% recyclable with no loss of quality, energy-efficient.||More expensive compared to steel.|
|Conductivity||Excellent conductor of heat and electricity, cost-effective.||Not as strong as steel, prone to denting and scratching.|
|Impermeability||Impermeable and used for packaging food and pharmaceuticals.||Challenging to work with due to its affinity to oxygen and porousness in the welding process.|
|Overall||Widely used in various industries for its unique properties.||Not the best choice for projects where strength is crucial or fastener joints are involved.|
Popular Uses of Aluminum In Our Life
It is true Aluminum has a lot of advantages and disadvantages, but overall, it is a very useful material. It is used in a lot of places and has more common uses than we might realize. Let us have a look at the top uses of Aluminum in our day-to-day lives.
Aluminum is one of the most common materials to make utensils. It is used for making knives, forks, spoons, etc. The reason why aluminum utensils rule your kitchen is because of their sturdy and durable properties. They can heat and cool down pretty quickly, which also makes it easier for short-order cooks in fast-food chains. Also, its affordability helps the masses to buy its utensils.
Aluminum is a very good conductor of electricity, and it is affordable as well. When these two properties are combined, they lead to cheap and durable electric cables, which are also light in weight. And that is why, sometimes, these cables get the upper hand from other materials’ cables, such as gold and copper. Also, the big power lines require the cables to be flexible and lightweight, where aluminum comes out at the top.
You might be already familiar with this, but when it comes to wrapping, we all search for Aluminum foil. The aluminum wrapper is used for many items, including food as well. It is safe and easy to use, and can also be recycled. It is known for not causing any contamination or food poisoning. All these reasons make it an ideal choice for wrapping.
Aluminum is one of the common materials used in the construction industry. The Empire State Building was one of the first structures to have aluminum in its body. But today, it is commonly used to make roofing sheets due to its lightweight, heat-resistant, and corrosion-resistant properties. The metal’s use is rapidly growing in the construction industry because of its desirable qualities. It is also a great material to use in strong weather conditions where strong resistance is required.
Aluminum is a unique material that brings its own sets of advantages and disadvantages. It may not be the best material to use at all times, but it has a lot of unique and useful properties which makes it popular among constructors and electricians, etc.