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Aluminium Foil

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The little things in life can sometimes be the biggest players in how the world is run. Pieces of the world we use everyday are full of small things that make a big difference. Aluminum foil is one of the small things in life that can be easily overlooked, and yet it plays a very large role in making life easy for all of us. Because of it’s history, how its made, and how its used, aluminum foil has changed the way we live. To understand the many uses of aluminum foil and how it has made life easier, the history of where aluminum foil came from, needs to be understood. Because aluminum was not made into the foil used today until the 19th century, it is best that we trace the many uses for aluminum in other forms. Aluminum was being used in ancient Egypt where they used alumina, an aluminum compound, for various medicinal uses. It was mostly used for mixing with other compounds to make the desired medication (aluminum foil). It was not until the early 1800s that someone tried to create aluminum for a practical use. In 1807 Sir Humphry Davy was the first person to try and create pure aluminum from minerals found in the earth. Davy was a British scientist and was the first person to identify and create pure substances that only existed in in other forms through electrolysis (Sir Humphry). He was unsuccessful in isolating aluminum but his ingenuity lit the way for many successors. Sir Humphry Davy inspired others to try and create a solid aluminum ingot. “Danish physicist and chemist, Hans Christian Ørsted, in 1825 finally produced aluminum. ‘It forms,’ Ørsted reported, ‘a lump of metal which in color and luster somewhat resembles tin.’” (Hans Christian). Hans Christian Ørsted became the first scientist to successfully isolate aluminum from other materials. This was a major breakthrough in the aluminum making process. It meant that pure aluminum could be formed from other compounds, and used in many applications. In 1825 Henri-Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville created a method for lumping aluminum together which is considered the “foundation for the modern aluminum industry.” (aluminum foil). “He worked out a process for obtaining pure aluminum from its compounds by treating them with sodium…; the Deville process made aluminum a commercial metal for the first time” (Henri-Etienne). Deville’s contributions to the world of aluminum, sparked the beginning of modern-day manufacturing, and his process of refinement is the basis for all aluminum production today. The first practical process for aluminum smelting was invented by Charles Martin Hall on February 23, 1883. Using the Deville process, Hall created a way to produce pure aluminum effectively and cheaply. His smelting process includes a large furnace called a pot, filled with molten cryolite that mixes with alumina to produce pure aluminum. This process has been unchanged since 1883 and is the backbone for how aluminum is created today (aluminum foil). Hall’s contributions to aluminum also include co-founding the largest modern producer of aluminum, the Alcoa company. In 1887, after Deville had introduced the idea of adding sodium to the aluminum compounds to break apart the aluminum, and isolate it, Karl Joseph Bayer perfected it. Bayer used a lot of heat and a lot of pressure to quickly decompose the compounds and isolate alumina, a powder form of aluminum. His process is still the most effective method for extracting pure alumina from deposits of aluminum compounds. The Bayer process is used all over the world to produce alumina and eventually create pure aluminum that can be molded into the dreams of the world. The history of aluminum is a complex road to the sophisticated techniques that are used today. Creating aluminum and eventually aluminum foil has been perfected over many year by many people and is now easily made into many different shapes and sizes. The next step to understanding where aluminum foil comes from is to understand the processes it takes to create this wonderful metal. Aluminum foil is made from nearly pure aluminum. Pure aluminum is extracted from an aluminum ore called Bauxite. “Bauxite contains iron and hydrated aluminum oxide, with the latter representing its largest constituent material.” (aluminum Foil). Bauxite is a very commonly found material on the Earth’s surface. The most abundant producer of Bauxite though, is Australia. “Australia has huge reserves of bauxite, and produces over 40% of the world’s ore” (aluminum and bauxite). Other contributors to the bauxite stockpiles of the world include Brazil, Guinea, and Jamaica. (aluminum and bauxite) To create pure aluminum from Bauxite, there are three processes that the ore must go through. The first of which, is the Bayer process. In this process, raw Bauxite is reduced from a rock form to a rough powder and mixed with sodium hydroxide. Once mixed, a lot of heat and pressure the mixture is added and the mixture becomes sodium aluminate. From this form the mixture goes through a stage called clarification. (About Aluminum) After clarification, the aluminum inside the sodium aluminate, is attracted to particles of hydrated aluminum that have been seeded into the mixture. This creates aluminum hydrate. Once the aluminum hydrate starts to clump together with the aluminum from the sodium aluminate, it is removed and rinsed. During the final stage of the Bayer process, the aluminum hydrate is heated and refined into a white powder called aluminum oxide or alumina. (aluminum foil) The next process in making pure aluminum is to refine the aluminum oxide into a useable metal ingot using the system developed by Charles Martin Hall. To create pure aluminum, the aluminum oxide is mixed with a form of molten aluminum called cryolite in a large holding area called the pot. A large current of electricity runs through the pot to melt the aluminum oxide. When the aluminum oxide melts and mixes with the cryolite, pure aluminum is formed. It is more dense then the cryolite so it sinks to the bottom of the pot where it can be removed and cast into ingots. (About Aluminium) To produce the aluminum foil that is used everyday, the ingot of pure aluminum is simply flattened to the desired thickness and width. This is done with a mill that presses the pure ingot with rollers with continually smaller gaps between them. This is done until the aluminum becomes a foil which is “usually between 0.00017 and 0.0059 inches thick” (aluminum foil). After the foil is formed, it is cut to specified lengths and widths, and packaged for sale. These packages are the basis for how life can be made easier by one small material. There are many ways in which aluminum foil can be used to make life easier and more functional. In the early days of aluminum it was a very expensive material. It cost over sixteen dollars to produce one pound of pure aluminum in 1884 (Binczewski). Because of it’s significant rarity, aluminum was chosen to be the apex of the Washington monument in Washington D.C.. The monument was built in 1884 and at the time, aluminum was a very new metal. It was decided that aluminum should grace the top of the monument because it was the only material fit to acknowledge the greatness of George Washington. Little did everyone know that in a few short years a man would create a way to make aluminum one of the cheapest metals in use today. That man’s name was Charles Martin Hall. After Hall perfected the process for cheaply smelting aluminum in large quantities, the manufacturers of the day slowly started to notice the unique characteristics of aluminum foil. The flexibility, strength, and insolating properties of aluminum foil were unique to this type of metal foil, and many manufacturers began to use aluminum foils for a plethora of different applications which would change the way the world ran and the way life was lived . (starts with dirt) One of the first applications for aluminum foil was for aluminum foil identification tags on the legs of racing pigeons. These tags would be marked with different names or numbers to identify what bird belonged to which person. The aluminum foil that these tags are made from is so light weight that it did not interfere with the birds flight, giving the racing pigeons more speed. Although this was a very simple use for aluminum foil, it was just a foreshadow of how aluminum could be applied to many different situations in everyday life. (aluminum foil history) Soon after the pigeons, aluminum foil took the role of wrapping consumer goods such as chocolate and tea. The foil wraps on these items gave them lasting freshness and helped to sell the product because of the foil’s attractive, shiny exterior. This practical use of aluminum foil shows how foil can be used to help lengthen product life and create a product that a consumer wants to buy. (aluminum foil history) Aluminum foil, like many other tributes to human ingenuity, got it’s big debut to the public through the military. During WWII, aluminum foil was given to troops in a few different ways. Throughout the war, aluminum foil was used as “packaging to prevent damage to contents by moisture, vermin, and heat, electrical capacitors, insulation, and anti-radar chaff, which were dropped from planes on bombing missions, as a radar shield.”(aluminum foil history). These uses for aluminum foil were not only practical in the 1940’s, they are also used today. Chaff is a radar countermeasure that is still in use today. The idea is to confuse the enemy’s radar by dropping small aluminum foil strips from your aircraft so that the radar picks up the specs on the screen. By doing this, the enemy can not tell where your plane is in the cloud of readings on their radar screen, this makes you invisible to radar. Soon after the war, Aluminum foil could be found in almost every household in America and the world. Because of the cheap price tag and the flexibility in it’s use, aluminum foil was a quick hit. Mothers could use the foil to wrap sandwiches for their children’s lunch, and their children could bring back the durable wrapping to be washed and used again. Mothers could also use aluminum foil for practical house hold remedies, such as a lid to a bowl, underneath a shirt on an ironing board, or wrapping the shelves of an oven for easy clean-up. (aluminum foil history) A lot of problems can have a simple solution when using aluminum foil. Most people use scissors on a daily basis for clipping coupons and other household uses, but most people have no idea how to sharpen their scissors effectively. To sharpen a pair of scissors, take a few layers of aluminum foil and try to cut through the layers with your scissors. This will sharpen the edges of the scissors because the pliability of the aluminum allows the edges of the scissors to sharpen from friction with the layers of aluminum foil. For many people that grew up before the advent of cable television, the association of aluminum foil and television sets bring back many memories. It was very common for families to use aluminum foil to help create a stronger signal reception on the antenna of their television sets. The idea was to lengthen the antenna and create more surface are for the antenna to receive a signal from. It was this that earned the antenna the nickname, “rabbit ear”, because the foil made the television look like it had ears. This trick worked so well, that it became a common occurrence to see televisions with aluminum foil attached to them. Another common use for aluminum foil, is as a catch for spills in the oven. To catch spills with aluminum foil, place the foil around the racks inside the oven. When something overflows or is cooked directly on the rack it will not directly touch the rack. This will prevent from having to clean the oven and the rack after cooking something that could normally make a mess. Aluminum foil is used as temporary cookware everyday. Aluminum foil pans and other cookware are easily found in every supermarket and can be extremely cost effective when compared with the price of large cookware. The aluminum cookware is very durable and in some cases can be used over and over again. Most people use aluminum cookware during the holiday season as an alternative to expensive cookware like a turkey sized roasting pan. Aluminum is also used as turkey bags for perfectly cooked birds at thanksgiving. Aluminum is also used for dessert and can normally be found holding a pie while it is being cooked or served. Aluminum foil is used very effectively as a heat reflector, and can be found in a few different forms. Aluminum foil backed insulated boards are often found in homes in the north. The aluminum foil on the board reflects the radiant heat from the hot summer days, and the insulated board helps to keep the home warm in the bitterly cold winters. Aluminum foil tape is commonly found in use with heat ducts in houses. The foil in the tape allows heat to stay in the ducts and the tape bonds the two material together. Aluminum foil is also often used by crazy people to protect their brain. These people believe that the government or aliens are trying to pry into their minds. The crazy people sometimes make aluminum foil hats to protect their minds from being probed. I’m not sure why aluminum foil is used for this, but I suspect that it is the reflective properties of aluminum foil that lead the uneducated to believe that this material will protect them for external investigation from unwanted beings or agencies. A lot of uses for aluminum make a big difference in peoples lives. This small part of everyday life can have a huge impact on how we eat, work, and enjoy our selves through out the day. Aluminum foil is very much so a key ingredient in life that con not e taken out. Aluminum foil has the power to change the world, and with it’s versatility, sharp looks, and unlimited uses, aluminum foil has changed our lives.…...

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