Aluminium: Chemical Element

Aluminum is also spelled Aluminium, It is a chemical element, with the symbol Al and atomic number 13. It is a silvery-white, soft, non-magnetic and ductile metal in the boron group. It is the third most abundant element after oxygen and silicon and the most abundant metal in the crust, though it is less common in the mantle below. The chief ore of aluminium is bauxite. Aluminium metal is highly reactive, such that native specimens are rare and limited to extreme reducing environments. Instead, it is found combined in over 270 different minerals.


Aluminum is concentrated in the outer 10 miles of Earth’s crust, of which it constitutes about 8% by weight; it is exceeded in amount only by oxygen and silicon. The name aluminum is derived from the Latin word alumen, used to describe potash alum, or aluminum potassium sulfate, KAl(SO4)2∙12H2O.

Crude aluminum was isolated in 1825 by Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted by reducing aluminum chloride with potassium amalgam. British chemist Sir Humphry Davy had prepared in 1809 an iron- Aluminum alloy by electrolyzing fused alumina (aluminum oxide) and had already named the element aluminum; the word later was modified to aluminium in England and some other European countries.

The new metal was introduced to the public in 1855 at the Paris Exposition at about the time that it became available in small amounts at great expense by the sodium reduction of molten aluminum chloride. When electric power became relatively plentiful and cheap, almost simultaneously Charles Martin Hall in the United States and Paul-Louis-Toussaint Héroult in France discovered (1886) the modern method of commercially producing aluminum: electrolysis of purified alumina (Al2O3) dissolved in molten cryolite (Na3AlF6). During the 1960s aluminum moved into first place, ahead of copper, in world production of nonferrous metals.

Uses of Aluminum

Aluminium oxide is commonly used as a catalyst for industrial processes; e.g. the Claus process to convert hydrogen sulfide to sulfur in refineries and to alkylate amines. Many industrial catalysts are supported by alumina, meaning that the expensive catalyst material is dispersed over a surface of the inert alumina. Another principal use is as a drying agent or absorbent.

Two kinds of alum, ammonium alum and potassium alum, were formerly used as mordants and in leather tanning, but their use has significantly declined following availability of high-purity aluminium sulfate. Anhydrous aluminium chloride is used as a catalyst in chemical and petrochemical industries, the dyeing industry, and in synthesis of various inorganic and organic compounds. Aluminium hydroxychloride are used in purifying water, in the paper industry, and as antiperspirants. Sodium aluminate is used in treating water and as an accelerator of solidification of cement.

Compounds of Aluminium

  • Aluminium acetate in solution is used as an astringent.
  • Aluminium phosphate is used in the manufacture of glass, ceramic, pulp and paper products, cosmetics, paints, varnishes, and in dental cement.
  • Aluminium hydroxide is used as an antacid, and mordant; it is used also in water purification, the manufacture of glass and ceramics, and in the waterproofing of fabrics.
  • Lithium aluminium hydride is a powerful reducing agent used in organic chemistry.
  • Methylaluminoxane is a cocatalyst for Ziegler–Natta olefin polymerization to produce vinyl polymers such as polyethene.
  • In many vaccines, certain aluminium salts serve as an immune adjuvant (immune response booster) to allow the protein in the vaccine to achieve sufficient potency as an immune stimulant.

Physical and Chemical Characteristics

  • Aluminum can be drawn into wire or rolled into thin foil. The metal is only about one-third as dense as iron or copper. Though chemically active, aluminum is nevertheless highly corrosion-resistant, because in air a hard, tough oxide film forms on its surface.
  • Aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Its thermal conductivity is about one-half that of copper; its electrical conductivity, about two-thirds. It crystallizes in the face-centred cubic structure.
  • Aluminum is slowly attacked by most dilute acids and rapidly dissolves in concentrated hydrochloric acid. Concentrated nitric acid, however, can be shipped in aluminum tank cars because it renders the metal passive.
  • Even very pure aluminum is vigorously attacked by alkalies such as sodium and potassium hydroxide to yield hydrogen and the aluminate ion. Because of its great affinity for oxygen, finely divided aluminum, if ignited, will burn in carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide with the formation of aluminum oxide and carbide, but, at temperatures up to red heat, aluminum is inert to sulfur.