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Facts About Aluminium Cans

Aluminium © Amy Nancarrow

What is aluminium?

Aluminium is the most common metallic element on earth, making up about 8% of the earth's crust, concentrated in the outer 16 km. Only oxygen and silicon are more abundant.

It is the most widely used non-ferrous metal today. Aluminium never occurs in its metallic form in nature.

Where does aluminium come from?

Aluminium is the most abundant metal found in the earth's crust. However, it is difficult to isolate because usually it is 'mixed in' with other elements. You can find aluminium in most rocks, vegetation and soils.

Being so difficult to isolate, aluminium wasn't discovered until 1807 by Sir Humphry Davy. Then it wasn't until 1886 that an economically viable process was developed to extract aluminium.

How many aluminium cans are produced in Australia?

Australians consumed over 3 billion aluminium cans in 2005. Of these, 51% were soft drink cans and 31% were beer cans.

What is sold in aluminium cans?

In Australia, you can buy all kinds of soft drinks, mixed drinks and beer in aluminium cans, in a variety of shapes, sizes and packs.

In other countries you can find fruit juices and milk in cans. In Japan, aluminium cans are used for housing their popular drink on the run - warm, milky coffee - straight from the vending machine.

In the USA, aluminium cans have been used for keeping food fresh as well. Peanuts, potato crisps and corn chips have all been put into cans.

Aluminium cans are the only container permitted in the Himalayas, Nepal because they are light and easy to crush. The local people who collect used aluminium cans also earn money from recycling the cans.

The benefits of aluminium beverage cans

Aluminium is highly suitable as a packaging material for beverages because of its:

  • Durability: It does not corrode easily.
  • Weight: With a density of 2.70g/cubic cm (compared with iron used in steel 7.86g/cubic cm), aluminium products are very light, cutting down on transport costs.
  • High thermal conductivity: Aluminium transfers heat 2.4 times faster than iron. This, combined with the fact that very thin sheets can be produced, means that heat is lost and gained through aluminium very quickly. Hence it is ideal for cooking and as a cold drink container.
  • Malleability: It can be rolled into extremely thin foil and can be cast and joined and still retain much of its strength, which adds to its value as a light packaging material because less of it needs to be used.
  • Low melting point: Aluminium has a melting point of 660°C compared with 1540°C for iron. This is a great benefit for the environment as less energy is required for processing and recycling.
  • Aluminium beverage cans have a protective polymer coating applied on the inside to prolong storage life. This polymer coating ensures that the acids and salts in beverages never actually come into contact with the metal.

What's the correct spelling?

Discoverer, Sir Humphry Davy, actually named the element 'aluminum'. This is the spelling still used in the USA today, but in many other English speaking nations (including Australia) we spell the word with an extra letter: 'aluminium'.

Source: The Aluminium Can Group

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