In the 19th century, Aluminum was discovered and since then it is 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 light weight. 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, 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.
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 goes 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.
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 requires stronger structures.