Hall was just 22 years old and a student at Oberlin College in Ohio when he discovered the way to create aluminium by separating it from bauxite ore through electrolysis. The aluminium pellets created from this discovery are called ‘Alcoa’s crown jewels’ because it led to the patent Hall received in 1886, and later the founding of Alcoa.
Alcoa vice president and chief sustainability officer Kevin Anton said: “Hall’s process is of course the backbone of our company, but this singular ‘cracking of the code’ did much more than just build an American success story. In the 125 years since his discovery, the development of aluminium has been nothing short of groundbreaking, opening up entire markets and industries, from cookware to electrical conductors, to car frames, to space shuttles and iPods.”
According to Anton, the innovation that occurred on 23 February 1886 in Hall’s ‘woodshed’ laboratory remains at the core of Alcoa’s DNA.
“We call aluminium the miracle metal not just for one reason, but for many,” he said. “Its properties are simply amazing: lightweight and ideal for promoting fuel efficiency in autos; strong enough to withstand deep ocean drilling and space travel; non-corrosive, making it perfect for use on the facade of buildings; and, of course, it’s infinitely recyclable. No other material has all of these properties.”
Prior to Hall’s invention, aluminium extraction methods were crude and costly. It was a metal used rarely and only by those who could afford it. Thus, in the late 1800s, it was used sparingly and as an ornamental metal, like its placement in 1884 at the top of the Washington Monument.
After Hall’s patented process, aluminium became more available and its attributes were recognised and sought after. In 1903, the Wright brothers recognised that the lightweight properties of Alcoa aluminium were integral to their first flying machine. In the years that followed, from the industrial revolution to today, aluminium has been at the cornerstone of both the extraordinary and the everyday.
No other metal has aluminium’s sustainability advantage. Nearly 75% of the aluminium ever produced is still in use today. When an aluminium can is recycled, it can be back on the shelf in 60 days. Alcoa saves 95% of the energy it takes to make a can from new metal, which lowers the carbon footprint of an aluminium can.
The demand for this miracle metal in industries ranging from transportation and consumer electronics, to packaging and building & construction has never been brighter. As Anton noted: “Aluminium’s contributions to the advancement of society are limitless. And the ingenuity and out-of-the-box thinking and experimentation that were characteristic of Charles Martin Hall continue to drive our ambitions at Alcoa today.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020
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