In the Earth's Crust, in every million atoms, around 82 000 of them are Aluminum, (82 000 ppm1
), by weight. This is around 8 % or almost one in every 12 atoms. This places aluminum amongst the world's most abundant elements, behind only Oxygen and Silicon. This high level of abundance is not replicated for aluminum in the oceans where it is only 0.01 ppm.
Despite being present of Earth in such incredibly vast quantities on Earth, the metal never occurs on it's own in nature. Instead of existing free like Gold and Silver, due to its higher level of reactivity, it is always chemically bonded in compounds when it normally occurs. The most common of these compounds is Bauxite, or Aluminum Ore which contains large quantities of Aluminum Oxide. Typically this is a combination of Aluminum and Oxygen in the formula Al2
O. There are also the impurities Fe2
, amongst others, present in Bauxite, which have to be removed in the Bayer Process
in the production of pure aluminum.
Bauxite reserves are spread across the world. Large deposits include: Australia, Brazil, Guinea and Jamaica. Around 85% of all Bauxite mined from the Earth is used to produce aluminum metal, which goes on to be used for a huge variety of uses
. The remaining 15% goes towards chemical and refractory materials, along with making aluminum compounds.
Large Bauxite Quantities
Aluminum has become an essential metal in our everyday lifestyles and luckily the known reserves of Bauxite are thought to be plentiful enough to maintain supplies of aluminum for some centuries to come. A publication by the International Institute for Environment and Development2
, states that in the year 1999 there were around 25 billion metric tonnes3
of Bauxite Ore, that is just about enough for everyone on the planet to have 4000 kg of Bauxite each, which means approximately 500 kg of Aluminum. They estimate that if the amount of production does not increase, that the supplies could last over 200 years.
With this amount of reserves it may seem that recycling aluminum is not only unnecessary, but also pointless. This however is not the case. Creating new aluminum from old metal requires just 5% of the energy needed to create the aluminum in the first place. It also releases just 5% of the green house emissions. When one kilogram of aluminum is recycled 8 kg of Bauxite, 4 kg of chemical products and 14 kilowatt-hours of electricity are saved. Recycled aluminum can be recycled again, and again save all these vast quantities of resources and energy.
Summary: Aluminum is the world's most abundant metal, and it only occurs in compounds in nature. Most commonly it is extracted from Bauxite which is found in Brazil, Australia and Africa. The current reserves of Bauxite should be enough to meet our needs for Aluminum for the next few centuries, although recycling saves energy, the environment and resources.
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