Aluminum: Its Characteristics, Chemistry, and Natural Occurrence

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 25, 2022
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Aluminium or aluminum is a pure metal element with the atomic number 13. It is known for its strength and lightweight properties, making it a highly sought-after material in modern times.

What is aluminum

What are the Key Uses of Aluminium?

Aluminium has a wide range of uses, including:

  • Construction: Aluminium is commonly used in the construction industry due to its strength and durability.
  • Electrical power: Aluminium is used in power cables and wires due to its high conductivity.
  • Utensils and kitchen containers: Aluminium is commonly used in the production of kitchen utensils, containers, and cans due to its resistance to corrosion.
  • Battery and lighter production: Aluminium is a key component in the production of batteries and lighters due to its lightweight properties.

How Much Aluminium is Produced?

Aluminium is a highly produced material, with millions of tons produced each year by companies around the world.

What Forms Does Aluminium Come In?

Aluminium comes in a variety of forms, including sheets, plates, bars, and tubes. It can also be found in special forms such as extrusions and forgings.

What Role Does Aluminium Play in the Environment?

Aluminium has a lower impact on the environment compared to other metals, as it can be recycled and reused. This makes it a common material in new product ranges that aim to reduce waste and promote sustainability.

Getting Physical with Aluminium

  • Aluminium is a bluish-silver metal that is highly stable due to its atomic structure.
  • It has an atomic number of 13 and is one of the main elements present on Earth.
  • The atomic configuration of aluminium is 2, 8, 3, meaning it has two electrons in the first energy level, eight in the second, and three in the outermost energy level.
  • The outermost electrons of aluminium are shared between the atoms, which contributes to its metallic bonding and makes it highly conductive.
  • Aluminium has a cubic crystal structure and a radius of approximately 143 pm.
  • It has a melting point of 660.32°C and a boiling point of 2519°C, making it capable of withstanding high temperatures.
  • The density of aluminium is low, ranging from 2.63 to 2.80 g/cm³, depending on the particular alloy.
  • Aluminium is nearly as malleable as gold and is the second most malleable metal, after silver.
  • It is also highly ductile, meaning it can be pulled into thin wires without breaking.
  • In comparison to other metals, aluminium has a relatively low weight, with a weight range of approximately 26.98 to 28.08 g/mol, depending on the isotope.

Physical Characteristics

  • Aluminium is a common element found in the Earth’s crust, where it is typically present in the form of bauxite.
  • It is produced by combining bauxite with sodium hydroxide and then electrolyzing the resulting mixture.
  • Pure aluminium is a slightly bluish-white metal that is highly polished and has a slight sheen.
  • Aluminium is highly resistant to corrosion, making it suitable for a variety of applications where it will be exposed to the elements.
  • It has a high thermal conductivity, meaning it can transfer heat quickly and efficiently.
  • Aluminium is also non-toxic, non-magnetic, and non-sparking, making it a highly versatile material.
  • Depending on the alloy, aluminium can range from being soft and malleable to hard and strong.
  • Aluminium is highly suitable for casting, machining, and forming, making it a popular choice for a wide range of applications.
  • Over the years, aluminium has become an increasingly important material due to its physical properties and the ease with which it can be produced and refined.
  • According to the periodic table, aluminium is a medium-sized element, and it is highly stable due to its electron configuration and bonding properties.
  • The ionization energies of aluminium are relatively high, meaning that it requires a significant amount of energy to remove an electron from an aluminium atom or ion.
  • Aluminium is capable of forming a wide variety of isotopes, ranging from 21Al to 43Al, with energies ranging from 0.05 MeV to 9.6 MeV.
  • The physical properties of aluminium make it a highly versatile material that is suitable for a wide range of applications, from construction and transportation to electronics and packaging.

Aluminium: The Chemistry Behind the Metal

  • Aluminium was discovered in 1825 by Danish chemist Hans Christian Oersted.
  • It is a post-transition metal with the symbol Al and atomic number 13.
  • Aluminium is a solid at room temperature and has a valence of three.
  • It has a small atomic radius and highly electronegative, which makes it strongly combine with other elements to form compounds.
  • The properties of aluminium include being a good conductor of electricity and heat, having a low density, and being corrosion-resistant.
  • It is essential to modern life and has a wide range of uses in building, transportation, and packaging.

Production and Refinement of Aluminium

  • Aluminium is produced by the Hall-Héroult process, which involves the electrolysis of alumina (Al2O3) in molten cryolite (Na3AlF6).
  • This process is energy-intensive and expensive, but aluminium is widely available and convenient to use.
  • The ability to produce aluminium in large quantities and at a relatively low cost has made it a common metal in modern society.
  • The refining process involves adding other metals such as magnesium to produce alloys with specific properties.

Aluminium in Nature and its Aqueous Chemistry

  • Aluminium is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, but it is not found in its pure form.
  • It is commonly found in minerals such as bauxite and clay.
  • Aluminium hydroxide (Al(OH)3) is a common compound that forms when aluminium reacts with aqueous solutions such as potassium hydroxide (KOH).
  • In the presence of water, aluminium forms a thin layer of oxide on its surface, which protects it from further corrosion.

Usage and Applications of Aluminium

  • Aluminium has a vast range of uses due to its properties, including being lightweight, strong, and easy to work with.
  • It is commonly used in building and construction, transportation, packaging, and electronics.
  • Aluminium is suitable for making thin pieces, such as foil, and large pieces, such as building frames.
  • The ability to mix aluminium with other metals allows for the production of alloys with specific properties, such as strength and corrosion resistance.
  • Aluminium rods are commonly used in electrical wiring due to their good conductivity.

The Origins of Aluminium: How It Occurs Naturally

  • Aluminium is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, making up about 8% of its weight.
  • It is a relatively low atomic number element, with the symbol Al and atomic number 13.
  • Aluminium is not found in its pure form in nature, but rather in combination with other elements and compounds.
  • It occurs in a wide variety of minerals, including silicates and oxides, as well as in the form of bauxite, a mixture of hydrated aluminium oxides.
  • Bauxite is the primary source of aluminium, and is found in large quantities in certain countries, including Australia, Guinea, and Brazil.
  • Aluminium also occurs in igneous rocks as aluminosilicates in feldspars, feldspathoids, and micas, and in the soil derived from them as clay.
  • Upon further weathering, it appears as bauxite and iron-rich laterite.

The Science Behind Aluminium’s Formation

  • Aluminium is created in the nucleus of stars through fusion reactions, and is ejected into space when these stars explode as supernovae.
  • It can also be produced in small quantities through the burning of certain materials, such as magnesium, in the presence of oxygen.
  • Aluminium is a stable element, and is not easily broken down or destroyed by chemical reactions.
  • It is extremely strong and lightweight, making it a valuable material for a wide range of applications.

The Different Forms of Aluminium in Nature

  • Aluminium can exist in different forms depending on the conditions in which it is found.
  • In its metallic form, aluminium is a strong, ductile, and malleable material that is commonly used in the production of a wide range of products.
  • It can also exist in the form of compounds, such as aluminium oxide (Al2O3), which is commonly known as corundum or ruby.
  • Native aluminium, in which the element is found in its pure form, is extremely rare and is only found in a few locations around the world, including South America and Greenland.
  • Aluminium can also be bonded with other elements, such as hydrogen and oxygen, to form compounds like aluminium hydroxide (Al(OH)3) and aluminium oxide (Al2O3).

From Mining to Manufacturing: The Journey of Aluminum Production

  • Bauxite is the primary material used in the production of aluminum
  • It is found in abundance in tropical and subtropical areas, particularly in South America, Africa, and Australia
  • Bauxite is a sedimentary rock that consists of a mixture of minerals, including aluminum hydroxide, iron oxide, and silica
  • To extract bauxite, experts use a method called blasting, which involves using explosives to remove topsoil and earth to access the rich deposits located beneath
  • The mined bauxite is then stored and transported to a refining facility

Refining Bauxite to Obtain Alumina

  • The refining process starts with the cleaning of the bauxite to remove any impurities, such as clay and traces of iron and other heavy metals
  • The cleaned bauxite is then crushed into small pieces and dried to form a dry powder
  • This powder is placed in a large tank, where it is mixed with a specific type of caustic soda and heated under pressure
  • The resulting chemical reaction produces a substance called alumina, which is a white, powdery material
  • Alumina is then stored and transported to a smelter for further processing

Smelting Alumina to Produce Aluminum

  • The smelting process involves turning alumina into aluminum metal
  • The current method used in most countries involves the Hall-Heroult process, which consists of two main steps: the reduction of alumina to aluminum oxide and the electrolysis of aluminum oxide to produce aluminum metal
  • The reduction of alumina to aluminum oxide involves heating alumina with a reducing agent, such as carbon, to remove the oxygen and produce aluminum oxide
  • The aluminum oxide is then dissolved in a molten electrolyte and subjected to electrical current to produce aluminum metal
  • The smelting process requires a significant amount of power and is commonly located near sources of cheap electricity, such as hydroelectric power plants
  • The result of the smelting process is high-quality aluminum products that are used in a wide range of industries, including construction, transportation, and packaging.

Aluminium: The Versatile Metal for a Wide Range of Applications

Aluminium is a widely used metal that has a range of applications across various industries. It is a lightweight, strong, and durable material that is easy to work with, making it a popular choice for many applications. In this section, we will explore the various applications of aluminium and the features that make it such a versatile material.

Applications in Building and Construction

Aluminium is a popular choice for building and construction due to its lightweight and corrosion-resistant properties. Some of the main applications of aluminium in building and construction include:

  • Roofing, cladding, and facades
  • Windows, doors, and shopfronts
  • Architectural hardware and balustrading
  • Guttering and drainage systems
  • Treadplate and industrial flooring

Aluminium is also commonly used in the construction of sports facilities, such as stadiums and arenas, due to its lightweight and durable properties.

Applications in Manufacturing and Industry

Aluminium is widely used in the manufacturing and industrial sectors due to its mechanical and chemical properties. Some of the main applications of aluminium in manufacturing and industry include:

  • Electrical transmission lines and components
  • Manufacture of cans for beverages and food
  • Utensils and cooking equipment
  • Components for the transportation industry, including railway and automotive
  • Alloys for various industrial applications, including catalysts and corrosion-resistant materials

Aluminium is also commonly used as a foil for packaging and insulation due to its ability to convert heat and its resistance to water and drying.

Aluminium Alloys and Their Applications

Aluminium alloys are produced by alloying agents such as copper, zinc, and silicon to improve the metal’s mechanical and chemical properties. Some of the most common aluminium alloys and their applications include:

  • Wrought alloys- used in the manufacture of various components due to their high strength and good formability
  • Cast alloys- used in the manufacture of complex components due to their ability to be cast into intricate shapes
  • Kynal- a family of alloys developed by British Imperial Chemical Industries that are widely used in the manufacture of electrical transmission lines and components

The Global Market for Aluminium

Aluminium is one of the most widely used metals in the world, with a range of applications across various industries. The global market for aluminium is significant, with the majority of aluminium production coming from China, followed by Russia and Canada. The demand for aluminium is expected to continue to grow, particularly in the automotive and construction industries, as the need for lightweight and durable materials increases.

Working with Aluminium: Techniques and Tips

When it comes to working with aluminium, there are a few techniques and tips that can make the process easier and more efficient:

  • Cutting: Aluminium can be cut using a variety of tools, including saws, shears, and even a simple box cutter. However, it is important to use the right tool for the job and to take care not to damage the material in the process.
  • Bending: Aluminium is a relatively soft metal, which makes it easy to bend and shape into different forms. However, it is important to use the right technique to avoid causing damage or leaving unsightly marks.
  • Joining: Aluminium can be joined using a variety of methods, including welding, brazing, and soldering. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the specific application.
  • Finishing: Aluminium can be finished in a variety of ways, including polishing, anodizing, and painting. Each method has its own unique benefits and can be used to create a variety of different looks and finishes.


Aluminium is widely used in a variety of applications, including:

  • Construction: Aluminium is a popular choice for building materials due to its strength, durability, and lightweight properties.
  • Cooking: Aluminium is often used in cookware due to its ability to conduct heat quickly and evenly.
  • Circuit connections and blocks: Aluminium is commonly used in the production of circuit connections and blocks due to its ability to conduct electricity.
  • Packaging: Aluminium is used to produce a variety of different packaging materials, including cans, foil, and even egg cartons.

Environmental Impact

While aluminium is a highly versatile and useful material, it is important to consider its environmental impact. The production of aluminium requires a great deal of power and can cause significant damage to the environment if not done responsibly. However, there are a variety of techniques and processes that can be used to reduce the environmental impact of aluminium production and use.

The Environmental Impact of Aluminium Production

Aluminium is a toxic chemical that can have harmful effects on aquatic ecosystems. When released into water bodies, it can cause loss of plasma- and haemolymph ions in fish and invertebrates, leading to osmoregulatory failure. This can result in the loss of plant and animal species, leading to a reduction in biodiversity. Additionally, the release of sulfuric emissions during the manufacturing of aluminium can lead to acid rain, which further harms aquatic ecosystems.

Terrestrial Ecosystems

Aluminium production also has a significant impact on terrestrial ecosystems. Deforestation is often necessary to make room for aluminium manufacturing plants, leading to habitat loss for many plant and animal species. The release of pollutants into the air can also harm the health of nearby communities and wildlife. Soil pollution is another issue, as the chemicals used in the manufacturing process can seep into the ground and harm plant life.


So there you have it, the many uses of aluminum and why it’s such a useful material. It’s a lightweight metal with a lot of strength, making it perfect for construction, transportation, and packaging. Plus, it’s non-toxic and non-magnetic, so it’s safe to use. So don’t be afraid to use it! You can always recycle it when you’re done with it.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.