Strong, lightweight and infinitely recyclable, aluminum is a vital material that keeps the modern world moving. Virtually every person in the United States, and indeed most of the world, uses aluminum every single day. The metal is so ubiquitous that many of us don’t even realize how often it touches our lives. In fact, people use more aluminum today than at any point in the 125-year history of the metal’s commercial production. Aluminum is critical to modern mobility and connectivity and without it, many of the conveniences of today’s world would simply not exist.
Innovative applications for aluminum are all around us. The car you drive to work most likely has an aluminum hood and other lightweight parts to drive fuel efficiency. Your house or office building likely uses aluminum windows and doors or maybe even a cool roof to improve insulation and decrease heating and cooling bills. That airplane you fly in for summer vacation or your latest business trip would literally not be possible without lightweight aluminum as a key component. Increasingly, even the high-tech gadgets you use to keep in touch with friends and family make use of sleek, attractive aluminum casings.
Aluminum is the essential element of modern life.
The advancement of aircraft and rocket technology is directly tied to the advancement and production of aluminum alloys. From the Wright brothers’ use of aluminum in the engine of their first biplane to NASA’s use of an aluminum-lithium alloy in the new Orion spacecraft—aluminum has created the potential for mankind to fly both around the Earth and into space.
Aluminum cans hold a special place in the heart of America: Many of our favorite beverages are found behind the pull tab or screw top. Coors pioneered the use of aluminum cans in 1959. From this start, there has been a steady march through sodas, energy drinks and increasingly, craft brew beers. Aluminum cans are the most sustainable beverage package and infinitely recyclable. They cool down quickly, provide a superior metal canvas to print on and, perhaps most important, protect the flavor and integrity of our favorite beverages.
Aluminum builds a better vehicle. Aluminum’s use in automobiles and commercial vehicles is accelerating because it offers the fastest, safest, most environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to increase performance, boost fuel economy and reduce emissions. The Aluminum Association’s Aluminum Transportation Group (ATG) communicates the benefits of aluminum in transportation through research programs and related outreach activities.
Aluminum was first used in quantity for building and construction in the 1920s. The applications were primarily oriented toward decorative detailing and art deco structures. The breakthrough came in 1930, when major structures within the Empire State Building were built with aluminum (including interior structures and the famous spire). Today, aluminum is recognized as one of the most energy efficient and sustainable construction materials. An estimated 85 percent of the aluminum used in buildings built today comes from recycled material. Aluminum-intensive LEED-certified buildings have won awards for Platinum, Gold and Best-in-State sustainability across the country.
Aluminum-based electrical wiring was first used for utility applications in the early 1900s. Use of aluminum wiring grew rapidly after World War II and it has increasingly replaced copper as the conductor of choice in utility grids. The metal has significant cost and weight advantages over copper and is now the preferred material for electricity transmission and distribution uses. AA-8000 series aluminum alloy conductors have more than 40 years of reliable field installations and have been recognized specifically by the National Electrical Code for over three decades.
Home appliances—the washing machine, dryer, refrigerator and laptop—exist as they are today because of aluminum’s light weight, structural strength and thermal characteristics. Iconic brands stretching from West Bend’s 1970 Presto Cooker to Apple’s iPod, iPad and iPhone share a single, common characteristic: the use of aluminum.
The origin of aluminum foil can be traced by to the early 1900s. Life Savers—one of today’s most popular candies—were first packaged in foil in 1913. To this day, the treats are encased in the world-famous aluminum foil tube. The uses of foil have grown over the past 100 years to a nearly endless count. From Christmas tree ornaments to spacecraft insulation, TV dinners to medicine packets—aluminum foil has, in many ways, improved both our products and our lives.
Since the introduction of aluminum into major U.S. markets in the early 1900s, the reach of this metal has grown exponentially. As aluminum enters into its second century of widespread use, new scientific and production technologies continue to expand its market potential. Solar panel nanotechnology, transparent aluminum alloys and aluminum-air batteries will help lead the way toward the development of new and innovative markets in the 21st century.