Aluminium is a soft, lightweight and malleable metal that is common in the Earth’s crust (it’s the most abundant element after oxygen and silicon). It usually has a silvery grey appearance making it useful for producing silver paints and mirrors.
Aluminium is highly reactive and so never found in its pure form. This made it especially valuable in the olden days when it cost even more than gold and silver – for example 150 years ago Napoleon Bonaparte served his most honoured guests with aluminium cutlery while the rest had to make do with gold! Though aluminium is very reactive, the cutlery would have been prevented from reacting with the air and rusting away by a thin layer of aluminium oxide that forms a protective layer over the metal.
Aluminium makes up 8% of the weight of the Earth’s crust and can be found in over 270 different minerals, including garnets, turquoise, rubies and sapphire! We get most of the world’s aluminium from bauxite ore and every year hundreds of millions of tonnes of the ore are mined to produce aluminium metal. This metal is really useful because it’s both strong and light, making it vital for construction and transportation (making things like cars, trains and bikes).
Aluminium is usually mixed in with other metals to form alloys. These alloys are so strong and light that we can build aeroplanes out of them – a Boeing 747 is covered by an aluminium skin less than half a centimetre thick! Aluminium alloys are also found in the home in the form of cooking utensils, foil, watches, walking sticks, sports equipment like bats, electronic casings, streetlamps and in drinks cans.
Aluminium cans are one of the most common uses of aluminium alloys and have become symbolic of the need to recycle our waste. Fortunately aluminium can be melted down and recycled without any loss of its natural qualities.