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The earliest citation given in the Oxford English Dictionary for any word used as a name for this element is alumium, which British chemist and inventor Humphry Davy employed in 1808 for the metal he was trying to isolate electrolytically from the mineral alumina.
Davy settled on aluminum by the time he published his 1812 book Chemical Philosophy: "This substance appears to contain a peculiar metal, but as yet Aluminum has not been obtained in a perfectly free state, though alloys of it with other metalline substances have been procured sufficiently distinct to indicate the probable nature of alumina." But the same year, an anonymous contributor to the Quarterly Review, a British political-literary journal, in a review of Davy's book, objected to aluminum and proposed the name aluminium, "for so we shall take the liberty of writing the word, in preference to aluminum, which has a less classical sound."
Minerals; Inorganic; Column Three
Recommended by Von Boenninghausen and verified by others. No proving.
Description of the substance
The method of obtaining aluminum metal by the electrolysis of alumina dissolved in cryolite was discovered in 1886 by Hall in the U.S. and at about the same time by Heroult in France. Cryolite, a natural ore found in Greenland, is no longer widely used in commercial production, but has been replaced by an artificial mixture of sodium, aluminum, and calcium fluorides.
Aluminum can now be produced from clay, but the process is not economically feasible at present. Aluminum is the most abundant metal to be found in the earth's crust (8.1%), but is never found free in nature. In addition to the minerals mentioned above, it is also found in granite and in many other common minerals.
Pure aluminum, a silvery-white metal, possesses many desirable characteristics. It is light, it is nonmagnetic and nonsparking, stands second among metals in the scale of malleability, and sixth in ductility.
Native aluminum rarely occurs naturally in its elemental form, even though only oxygen and silicon are more abundant in the earth's crust. It has been found in volcanic muds and as tiny grains in highly unusual environments along with other elemental metals.
While aluminum is soft and weak in its pure form, when alloyed with other metals such as copper, magnesium or manganese its mechanical properties can improve greatly. Aluminum only has 60% of the electrical conductivity of copper, but its light weight and low cost make it a preferable metal for many electrical transmission applications. Aluminum is relatively strong (per unit of weight), as strong as steel although only about half as strong as titanium, which when combined with its low cost makes it a popular metal for building things from beer cans to lawn chairs to boats to airplanes. It is easy to manufacture since it is the second most malleable metal and the sixth most ductile - the only difficulty is in welding it.
Actually, aluminum is extremely reactive, and any bare surface instantly grows a microscopic oxide layer (corundum) that is air tight and prevents further oxidation. In extreme heat, aluminum can begin to burn (similarly to magnesium), and can even burn under water by stealing the oxygen from water. The mixture called thermite is powdered aluminum and iron oxide. When ignited, the aluminum steals the oxygen from the rust, generating a great deal of heat and leaving molten iron. Also, powdered aluminum is a primary ingredient in slow explosives such as fireworks.
Color is silvery-white.
Luster is metallic.
Transparency: Crystals are opaque.
Crystal System is isometric.
Crystal Habits are limited to microscopic inclusions and as nodules in volcanic muds.
Cleavage is absent.
Hardness 1.5 (very soft)
Specific Gravity is 2.72 (very light for metals).
Streak is white.
Associated Minerals include gold, copper, and zinc.
Notable Occurrences are limited to Russia, Zaire, and Baku, Azerbaidzhan.
Best Field Indicators: Rarity, color, softness, luster and locality.
Aluminum and Bauxite
Because aluminum metal reacts with water and air to form powdery oxides and hydroxides, aluminum metal is never found in nature. Many common minerals, including feldspars, contain aluminum, but extracting the metal from most minerals is very energy-intensive, and therefore expensive.
The main ore of aluminum is bauxite, the source of over 99% of metallic aluminum. Bauxite is the name for a mixture of similar minerals that contain hydrated aluminum oxides. These minerals are gibbsite (Al(OH)3), diaspore (AlO(OH)), and boehmite (AlO(OH)). Because it is a mixture of minerals, bauxite itself is a rock, not a mineral. Bauxite is reddish-brown, white, tan, and tan-yellow. It is dull to earthy in luster and can look like clay or soil. Bauxite forms when silica in aluminum-bearing rocks (that is, rocks with a high content of the mineral feldspar) is washed away (leached). This weathering process occurs in tropical and subtropical weathering climates.
Alternative sources of aluminum might someday include kaolin clay, oil shales, the mineral anorthosite, and even coal waste. However, as long as bauxite reserves remain plentiful and production costs are low, the technologies to process these alternative sources into alumina or metallic aluminum will likely not progress beyond the experimental stage.
Australia has huge reserves of bauxite, and produces over 40% of the world’s ore. Brazil, Guinea, and Jamaica are important producers, with lesser production from about 20 other countries. The United States’ production, which was important 100 years ago, is now negligible.
Most bauxite is first processed to make alumina, or aluminum oxide, a white granular material. Sometimes, raw bauxite is shipped overseas for processing to alumina, while in other cases it is processed near the mine. Alumina is lighter than bauxite because the water has been removed, and it flows readily in processing plants, unlike bauxite which has a sticky, muddy consistency. Australia, the United States, and China are the largest producers of alumina. All the U.S. alumina being made is from imported bauxite.
Aluminum metal is refined from alumina, usually in industrialized countries having abundant supplies of cheap hydroelectric power. The refining process is the Hall-Heroult Process, named after Charles Hall of the U.S. and Paul L.T. Heroult of France, who each independently invented the process in 1866. In this process, alumina (aluminum oxide) is dissolved in molten cryolite (cryolite is an aluminum fluoride mineral, Na3AlF6). The alumina is then separated into its elements by electrolysis. Though attempts have been made to replace this process, it is to this day the only method used to isolate aluminum on a commercial scale.
The largest producers of aluminum metal are Russia, China, the United States, and Canada, countries which have abundant hydroelectric power. More than 40 other countries also produce aluminum, including Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Tajikistan, and New Zealand, which are small but mountainous, and have many rivers to provide hydroelectric power. Other areas of the world with access to abundant and cheap electricity, such as the Middle East, are also expanding their metal production capacities.
Recycling of aluminum by melting cans and other products is an important source of metal in many developed countries.
About 85% of all the bauxite mined worldwide is used to produce alumina for refining into aluminum metal. Another 10% produces alumina which is used in chemical, abrasive, and refractory products. The remaining 5% of bauxite is used to make abrasives, refractory materials, and aluminum compounds.
The lightness, strength, and corrosion resistance of aluminum are important considerations in its application. Metallic aluminum is used in transportation, packaging such as beverage cans, building construction, electrical applications, and other products.
Aluminum, the third most abundant element at the Earth’s surface, is apparently harmless to plant and animal life.
Though aluminum is very important in industry and daily-life applications, it can be replaced by other commodities if necessary. For instance, copper can replace aluminum in electrical applications. Paper, plastics and glass make good packaging alternatives. Magnesium, titanium and steel can be used in vehicles and other forms of ground and air transportation.
Unless energy costs should rise steeply, the use of aluminum in most of these applications is not likely to be seriously threatened. Worldwide sources of bauxite are large enough to supply the demand for aluminum for some time to come.