|History of discovery||The development of aluminium as a product|
Strong, beautiful and light
The year 2011 marks the anniversary of a discovery that has not only improved our lives, but plays an eminent role for Europe’s sustainable development. Safer and more fuel efficient transportation, energy efficient buildings, infinitely recyclable packaging all have been possible with the help of this discovery made 125 years ago which enabled the production and the use of aluminium on an industrial scale.
The smelting process to produce aluminium was discovered almost simultaneously but independently in 1886 by Charles Martin Hall in the United States and Louis Toussaint Héroult in France. Both men dissolved aluminium oxide in molten cryolite and then extracted the aluminium by electrolysis… Aluminium is the most abundant metal and the third most abundant element – comprising some 8 percent of the earth’s crust. Today more aluminium is produced each year than all other non-ferrous metals combined.
For 125 years, the aluminium industry has developed an intense passion for innovation. Since the midth of the 19th century, the light metal never ceased to excite imagination and pioneering. Among a wide diversity of applications from art and crafts to high technology, three main fields have allowed aluminium to cross a passion to serve and a gift for beauty: transportation, packaging and building.
So, why was it not discovered sooner? The main reason is that aluminium never occurs naturally in metallic form. Aluminium is found in most rocks, clay, soil and vegetation combined with oxygen and other elements.
Aluminium bearing compounds have been used by man from the earliest times, pottery was made from clays rich in hydrated silicate of aluminium. Ancient Middle Eastern civilisations used aluminium salts for the preparation of dyes and medicines: they are used to this day in indigestion tablets and toothpaste.At one point in history, aluminium was such a valuable commodity that rulers and the wealthy preferred impressing their guests with plates and cutlery made from aluminium rather than gold.