Top 10 Uses of Aluminium we’ll be discussing in this article:
- Power lines
- High-rise buildings
- Window frames
- Consumer electronics
- Household and industrial appliances
- Aircraft components
- Spacecraft components
- Personal vehicles
Aluminium, or ‘aluminum’ depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you reside, is the 13th element on the periodic table and a post-transition metal. It is the most abundant mineral on Earth behind oxygen and silicon, making it the most abundant metal naturally found on the planet, and the second-most used metal globally, behind only iron. It is largely used as an alloy, even if the aluminium content is as high as 99%.
Almost everybody in the world has used a product containing aluminium at some point. This is in large part because of its desirable physical properties:
- Density: 2.7 g/cm³ at 20 °C
- Brinell Hardness: 245 [-] at 20 °C
- Tensile strength: 90 MPa at 20 °C
- Melting point: 660 °C
- Specific heat capacity: 900 J/(kg·K) at 20 °C
- Electrical resistivity: 2.6E-8 Ω·m at 20 °C
- Download full datasheet here.
Due to all these factors, from abundance to heat capacity and tensile strength, aluminium is used in a remarkably wide range of commercial goods. It is also infinitely recyclable and makes up part of the foundational infrastructure of the world. Below are ten of the most common and useful applications of aluminium in modern society.
1. Power lines
Aluminium is ideal for wiring power grids, including overhead power transmission lines and local power distribution lines because it provides a better conductivity to weight ratio than copper – also one of most common materials used in electrical applications.
Aluminium has barely more than half the conductivity of copper – but with only 30 percent of the weight, a bare wire of aluminium with similar electrical resistance will weigh only half as much. Aluminium is also less expensive than copper, which makes it more attractive from an economical and financial perspective.
2. High-rise buildings
With its high malleability, high strength to weight ratio, and versatility, aluminium is a valuable material at the heart of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers. It is also an ideal material because of its durability, design flexibility, and contributions to energy savings, both front-end and back-end.
Furthermore, skyscrapers would weigh considerably more if steel were used, which would require building foundations to be deeper and add to the construction costs.
3. Window frames
Aluminium frames are generally a quite durable, cost-effective option for homes and offices. They are also lightweight and can be made impact-resistant, which is useful in places that experience high winds and powerful storms.
Using aluminium for window frames is usually lower-maintenance and less expensive than wood, and is also more resistant to scratching, cracking, and marring. However, one of the major disadvantages of using aluminium frames is that they are not as energy efficient as wood, nor do they offer the same level of insulation.
4. Consumer electronics
Smartphones, tablets, laptops, flat-screen TVs, computer monitors, and other electronics are increasingly using aluminium in their production. Aluminium combines beauty and practicality, with the ability to look sophisticated yet reliable. These are essential features for the electronics industry.
Electronics manufacturers have recently been implementing aluminium to replace steel and plastic. It was used primarily for cooling CPU and graphics processors, with its excellent heat conductivity making it an ideal choice. Newer models of electronics are featuring aluminium bodies and casing components.
Aluminium is stronger and more reliable than plastic yet lighter than steel, which, combined with its innate ability to absorb and dissipate heat, has led to an increase in aluminium usage amongst market-leading manufacturers.
5. Household and industrial appliances
Aluminium is used in precision tubing for refrigerators and air conditioners – but that’s not all that this material serves in such appliances.
Many consumer washers, dryers, dishwashers, and other appliances also employ aluminium frames in their design. Refrigeration and freezing appliances are particularly good practical applications of aluminium, with characteristics that facilitate the cooling process and create highly efficient refrigeration. Modern refrigerators would be much different without the advantages that aluminium provides.
6. Aircraft components
Aluminium has three excellent properties in particular that make it so useful in the aviation industry: high strength to weight ratio, excellent ductility, and high resistance to corrosion. In fact, it is because of aluminium that human beings have been able to fly in the first place, ever since the Wright brothers used aluminium to make the engine crankcase for their first wood-frame biplane.
Given that aluminium is comparable in strength to steel with only a fraction of the weight, using it in aircraft construction affords planes more weight capacity for cargo and passengers, as well as greater fuel-efficiency. Aluminium’s high resistance to corrosion also helps ensure the safety of the aircraft and its passengers, which is one of its most fundamental requisites of air travel.
- Density: 2.7 g/cm³ at 20 °C
- Elastic modulus: 70 GPa at 20 °C
- Hardness, Brinell: 245 [-] at 20 °C
- Poisson’s ratio: 0.35 [-] at 20 °C
- Tensile strength: 90 MPa at 20 °C
Aluminium was chosen as it is lightweight (about 70% lighter than steel), strong, and has a high resistance to corrosion. In this article, we’ll look at some common alloys used in aerospace engineering and their applications, as well as some less well-known ones, and what the future holds for aerospace materials.
7. Spacecraft components
The advancement of spacecraft and rocket technology is directly tied to the advancement of aluminium alloys. From the first prototype engines to NASA’s use of an aluminium-lithium alloy, this material has been part of the space program since its inception.
Similar to aircraft, aluminium’s strength to weight ratio, resistance to corrosion, and ductility are ideal properties for something that needs to be strong and light, with zero room for malfunction. Spacecraft windows are also a particularly great application of materials science: one way of making them is aluminium oxynitride, which is actually a transparent ceramic we use to make things bulletproof.
Something even more impressive, however, is that aluminium-niobium alloys used in spacecraft are able to endure the heat concentrated inside the Falcon 9’s engine.
Light and strong materials bode well for ships, especially ones that fill the hull with cargo. Aluminium’s lightweight properties allow for more surface and less mass – without compromising the strength that is necessary to withstand cracks and breaches in the hull.
This allows for more weight to be loaded in the form of goods, people, or fuel. In addition to tankers and large ships, aluminium is used in constructing yachts, speedboats, and underwater vessels. Most sporting boats are also built from aluminium, from keel to mast, which gives them a speed advantage in races and adds excitement to leisure activity.
Trains can function very well using iron and steel, as they have for centuries. But why not improve upon a design if you are able to do so? Using aluminium components in place of steel can have advantages: aluminium is easier to form and improves efficiency.
While railways were once made mainly from iron, many elements of modern trains are made from aluminium. In fact, aluminium’s strength-to-weight ratio is one of the main factors that makes train speeds of over 350 km/h possible.
The aluminium alloys used in these high-speed rail carriages have lower density but comparable strength to steel, as well as excellent corrosion resistance that helps with maintenance. Furthermore, aluminium alloy cables are increasingly being used as a substitute for traditional copper cables in railway transmissions and installations.
10. Personal vehicles
Aluminium is billed as the most cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to increase performance, boost fuel economy, and reduce emissions while improving safety and durability.
Whether it is personal vehicles, like an average Ford sedan, or a luxury car model, like a Mercedes Benz, aluminium is increasingly the “material of choice” for automobile manufacturers due to its strength and environmental advantages.
Vehicles can be lighter and more nimble without losing out on strength or durability. This is also advantageous as cars can be more easily recycled, adding a level of sustainability to using aluminium in vehicles.
Further uses of aluminium
Though these are ten of the most common or useful applications of aluminium, there are numerous other areas in which this versatile metal can be used.
Read more about the many uses of aluminium on Matmatch’s dedicated aluminium page.
“I love exploring how different materials can have an impact on engineering and environmental problems.”
Environmental Scientist and Policy Analyst
*This article is the work of the guest author shown above. The guest author is solely responsible for the accuracy and the legality of their content. The content of the article and the views expressed therein are solely those of this author and do not reflect the views of Matmatch or of any present or past employers, academic institutions, professional societies, or organizations the author is currently or was previously affiliated with.
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