Last year, researchers developed a material “that’s as strong and light as titanium, another expensive material, but at just a tenth of the cost.” They were able to achieve this feat by tweaking Aluminum’s alloying properties at the nano level.
Aluminum’s properties as a stand-alone metal already make it one of the most versatile materials in engineering and construction, and as engineering database Total Materia notes, “a mere recital of its characteristics is impressive.” It is lightweight, but extremely durable, has a high resistance to corrosion, boasts good electric and thermal conductivity, and reflects both heat and light. It is highly malleable, and can be treated with many different surface finishes.
Add to that its alloying capabilities, which were first harnessed around 1911, and Aluminum’s versatility soars to new heights. The addition of other metals and minerals, including fellow Gateway Metals Copper and Zinc, but also Iron, Silicon, Magnesium or Manganese, to pure aluminum further enhanced its properties. Multiple alloys make up America’s “favorite beverage container,” the aluminum can, but that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg – aluminum alloys are used in a wide range of industries today.
Because of the wide range of alloying options, and with international designations becoming a mess with some countries merely assigning numbers in the order of their development, the uniform International Alloy Designation System (IADS), a designation system previously developed by the Aluminum Association of the United States, became the international standard for Aluminum alloy designation in the 1970s. Based on this system, Aluminum alloys are assigned a four-digit number of which the first digit represents a general series or class, characterized by its main alloying elements.
Some of the main categories of Aluminum alloys are “Commercially Pure Aluminum,” “Heat-Treatable Alloys,” and “Non-Heat Treatable Alloys,” but new alloy compositions continue to be developed. According to the Aluminum Association, which has put together a great series of infographics on Aluminum alloys, the number of registered active compositions has grown to more than 530 from the 75 initially registered at the time of the classification system’s initial inception in 1954.
The development of a Titanium-like iron-aluminum alloy, which ultimately could be used in “everything from bicycles to airplanes” only underscores that Aluminum is more than tin foil and beverage cans. As materials sciences advance, we can expect the number of registered alloys to continue to grow, and we will be able to reap the benefits.