By Kelly Mark and Michele Khan

1) Introduction

Get a Voki now!

Aluminum has an atomic number of 13, and is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. Aluminum is the most common metal in the Earth's crust (about 8.2% of the earth's crust is composed of aluminum), it is the most abundant metal on our planet, and the second most plentiful chemical element for making things. All of the earth's aluminum has combined with other elements to form compounds. Two of the most common compounds are alum, such as potassium aluminum sulfate Al(SO4)2·12H2O), and aluminumoxide (Al2O3) [1]. The versatility of aluminum makes it the most widely used metal, after steel. Although aluminum compounds have been used for thousands of years, aluminum metal was first produced around 170 years ago. Check out the PowerPoint below to find out more about Aluminum!

2) History of Aluminum's Discovery and Use

The ancient Greeks used Aluminum as an astringent and as a mordant in dyeing. In 1761, de Morveau proposed the name Alumine for the base in aluminum, and Lavoisier, in
Hans Christian Oersted discovered Aluminum in 1825.
Hans Christian Oersted discovered Aluminum in 1825.
1787, thought this to be the oxide of a still undiscovered metal. In 1807, Davy changed the name to Aluminum, until 1925, when the name was changed to Aluminum by the American Chemical Society. In 1825, the Danish Professor, Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851) was credited with discovering the existence of the element, but his extraction method was inefficient and yielded metallic clay.

Two important developments in the 1880s greatly increased the availability of aluminum, The first development was the invention of a new process for getting aluminum from aluminum oxide. An American chemist, Charles Martin Hall and a French chemist, Paul L. T. Heroult, both invented this process in 1886. The second development was the invention of a new process that could obtain aluminum oxide from bauxite (cheaply). Bauxite is an ore that contains a big amount of aluminum hydroxide (Al2O3·3H2O), along with other compounds. An Austrian chemist, Karl Joseph Bayer, developed this process in 1888. The Hall-Heroult and Bayer processes are still used today to produce nearly all of the world's aluminum [2].

With these two processes, the era of inexpensive aluminum had begun. In 1888, Hall formed the Pittsburgh Reduction Company, which is now called, the Aluminum Company of America, or Alcoa. When it opened, his company could only produce about 25 kilograms of aluminum a day. By 1909, his company was producing about 41,000 kilograms of aluminum a day. As a result of this huge increase of supply, the price of aluminum fell rapidly to about $0.60 per kilogram.

Today, aluminum and aluminum alloys are used in a wide variety of products: cans, foils and kitchen utensils, as well as parts of airplanes, rockets and other items that require a strong, light material. Although it doesn't conduct electricity as well as copper, it is used in electrical transmission lines because of its light weight. It can be deposited on the surface of glass to make mirrors, where a thin layer of aluminum oxide quickly forms that acts as a protective coating. Aluminum oxide is also used to make synthetic rubies and sapphires for lasers [2].

3) Economics: How is Aluminum Economically Important?

This graph shows the average production of Aluminum by region.
This graph shows the average production of Aluminum by region.

Aluminum is widely used throughout the U.S economy, especially in transportation, packaging, and construction industries. Aluminum's flexible and lightweight properties will continue to play an important role in a healthy economy. Aluminum is important when applied to the infrastructure, aerospace, and defense industries. The aluminum industry had stable prices throughout the 1970s. For much of the indistry's history, the U.S was the world's largest producer of aluminum. Since 2000, the U.S has dropped from the 1st to the 4th largest with China, Russia and Canada being the top three producers of Al. Today, in the U.S, the aluminum industry is the world's 4th largest, accounting for the 17% of the world's primary aluminum production in 1997. Production and shipments of aluminum have risen steadily since 1994 [3].

The Aluminum industry makes a great contribution to the global economy and to many individual natioal economies. 45 million tons of semi-fabricated aluminum products are produced annually (including 14 million tons from recycled aluminum). The aluminum industry currently eemploys more than one million people worldwide and generates four times as many jobs in downstream and service industries.

4) Environment: Where is the element found in nature and to what extent?

Deposits of bauxite ore are mined and refined into alumina—one of the feedstocks for aluminum metal
Deposits of bauxite ore are mined and refined into alumina—one of the feedstocks for aluminum metal

Although Aluminum is the most abundant element in the earth’s crust, it is not found freely in nature- it is combined with other elements to form compounds.

The most common compounds of Aluminum are:
- potassium aluminum sulfate (KAl(SO4)2·12H2O),
- and aluminum oxide (Al2O3).

Aluminum originates as an oxide called alumina. Because aluminum itself does not occur in nature as a metal, the processing of aluminum took a giant leap forward with the advent of electricity. Deposits of bauxite ore are mined and refined into alumina (feedstocks for aluminum metal). Then, alumina and electricity are combined in a cell with cryoite (molten electrolyte). Direct-current electricity is passed from a consumable carbon anode into the cryolite, splitting the aluminum oxide into molten aluminum metal and carbon-dioxide. Click on the link below to see a more detailed overview on how Aluminum is extracted from Bauxite!
How Aluminum is Extracted from Bauxite
So while it is common, you cannot simply go out in your backyard and find some aluminum; as mentioned before, there are various methods, such as the Hall-Heroult or Bayer processes, that you must use to extract the aluminum [3].

5) Health

It is not normally an element to cause health problems, but as they say, too much of anything is bad for you, and aluminum is no exception. People who live in dusty work/home environments or live near waste areas (contaminated air) are more at risk when it comes to problems from aluminum exposure. The very air around them may be more contaminated with aluminum if they are in these environments. However, sometimes people who dust their homes every day and live miles and miles from the nearest waste facility can develop problems due to aluminum buildup, whether the cause be from their diet, or a previous health condition.

People who breathe in large amounts of Al dusts can have lung problems- such as coughing or changes that show up in x-rays. Oral exposure to aluminum is usually not harmful, however some studies show that people exposed to high levels of aluminum may develop Alzheimer's disease [4]. People who have kidney disease store a lot of aluminum in their bodies- kidney disease causes less aluminum to be removed from the body in the urine. Sometimes, these people develop bone or brain diseases that doctors think were caused by excess aluminum. Fortunately, Aluminum is not dangerous to us in low enough quantities. Aluminum is all around us in our everyday lives; if it was bad for us, we'd be in a lot of trouble!

When around aluminum oxide, however, it's recommended to wear goggles and protective gloves to avoid contact. If any is inhaled, it is recommended to get the victim into fresh, clean, air, and give them a few glasses of water to try and help flush out and dilute the dust. If a lot of the dust was inhaled or swallowed, the person may need medical attention. If any aluminum oxide dust gets on skin, rinsing with water for several minutes can help clear all the dust off the skin and prevent irritation. Aluminum oxide is a white and odorless powder, so if you or someone you know comes into contact with a substance that fits this description, it's best to follow the above procedures, just in case [9].

Aluminum oxide is not considered extremely dangerous; it's official contact rating is a 2 (moderate). But it's still better to be safe than sorry when it comes to health, so it's best to take care if you know you're going to be around it. Each substance we have in our world is given a rating based on it's flammability, health/contact, and reactivity. This system is called Hazard Rating System, or Hazard Identification System. The highest rating a substance can get is a 4, which means that the substance is very dangerous in whatever category it received a 4 in. For example, if the substance was identified as a 4 in flammability, it would be wise to not go anywhere near the substance with fire, or even heat. Aluminum receives a 2 in health, meaning that while it is not the most health-hazardous thing you can find out there, it can certainly be bad, and should be avoided [6].

6) Chemistry/Physics of Aluminum

external image superconductivity-aluminum.jpgAluminum has an atomic number of 13 and an atomic mass of about 26.98. Al is part of the boron group of chemical elements. Aluminum dissolves in strong bases such as sodium hydroxide (lye). It is considered an active metal- its behavior is deceptive because it reacts rapidly with oxygen in the air to form aluminum oxide Al2O3 [1].

The electron configuration of Al is [Ne]3s23p1. Aluminum is a shiny, hard metal. It is the most abundant metal in the Earth's crust. Aluminum is extracted from Bauxite through the Hall Process. The only oxide of aluminum is alumina. There are two types of anhydrous aluminum oxide- the alpha and gamma form. The alpha form occurs in nature, and is found as the mineral Conundrum. The gamma form is readily absorbs water and dissolves in acids. Isotopes of Aluminum can be found here.

7) Interesting Facts about Aluminum

The pyramid on top of the Washington Monument is made up of aluminum; it is 100 ounces, and represents 20% of the aluminum produced in the year 1884, the same year the pyramid was placed! Aluminum can also be found in many items you see every day, such as cans and foil. Aluminum is also used to make airplanes, because it's stronger than steel per pound, so it can protect and build the structure for a plane while weighing less for easier flight.

About 2/3 of all aluminum ever produced is still around! This is because aluminum can be recycled again and again and again, indefinitely. Here's a cool video to explain just how cool recycling aluminum can be!

And here's another video of a cool experiment you can do with aluminum at home. Just remember to be careful, and enjoy the experiment!


1) "Aluminum." Los Alamos National Laboratory's Chemistry Division. Web. 26 Dec. 2010. <>.

2) Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility - Office of Science Education. "It's Elemental - The Element Aluminum." Science Education at Jefferson Lab. Web. 26 Dec. 2010. <>.

3) "Aluminum - Economic Profile and Trends." U.S. Energy Information Administration. Web. 01 Jan. 2011. <>.

4) "Public Health Statement: Aluminum." ATSDR Home. Web. 02 Jan. 2011. <>.

5) "JW Aluminum : Fun Facts." JW Aluminum : Home. Web. 02 Jan. 2011. <>.

6) "The Effects of Aluminum Exposure." Global Healing Center Health Products & Information. Web. 02 Jan. 2011. <>.

7) "Aluminium (US: Aluminum)." Chemguide: Helping You to Understand Chemistry - Main Menu. Web. 04 Jan. 2011. <>.

8) "ALUMINUM OXIDE." New Mallinckrodt Baker Website. Web. 04 Jan. 2011. <>.

9) "NFPA Hazard Rating System." Environmental Health and Safety. Web. 04 Jan. 2011. <>.

10) "YouTube - HowStuffWorks - Recycling Aluminum." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 06 Jan. 2011. <>.

11) "YouTube - HCL Aluminum Foil = Fun." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 06 Jan. 2011. image 20071114as_magmask5_500.jpg