How Aluminum Changed the World

Aluminum started as one of the world’s most expensive materials because it was difficult to refine—even though it made up 8 percent of the world’s crust. But eventually aluminum became one of the cheapest materials after methods of mass producing it were invented in the 1880s. It went from $1200 per kilogram down to a dollar in 50 years.


The aluminum used back then was still weak and malleable, though. It wasn’t until Alfred Wilm accidentally discovered age-hardening which transformed aluminum to duralumin, an alloy with a much stronger crystalline structure, that things began to change. Duralumin was used to create the first all-metal airplane, and its strength eventually led to new plane structures being built that changed air travel forever.

Real Engineering goes through the history of aluminum and makes the case that it’s one of those materials in history that completely changed the world. The video cites other examples for aluminum’s importance, like how its lightness is favored in power lines (even though copper is a better conductor) and how its used in construction. There’s a damn fun history for such an interesting material.



I do drives and motors. Install them and commission them. This work goes into many industrial mills.

Aluminum mills are strange beasts. Back in day, steel companies very protective of techniques. Not so much anymore. Aluminium mills are still like this. So when I do these jobs, we still have to sign agreements to not disclose certain things. Very frustrating from a technical point, they will tell us not correct information to protect trade secrets...and then wonder why commissioning goes poorly.

Fun story. I am in Chinese Aluminum mill. We do production for first time. Pulpit is filled with people. Many more people than normal because party bigwigs there. I am wedge in bag to make sure to troubleshoot problems if happens. Everyone is smoking.

Suddenly pulpit empties out. I am standing there alone and I see flames shooting up from one of the mill stands. Steel mills use water. Aluminum mills use kerosene mix for lubrication and cooling. If catches fire, very hard to put out and very dangerous.

All management run away and I stand in pulpit watching flames spread up and down line. People on floor but the mill is so loud that they do see it. I grab microphone and yell in English “FIRE EVACUATE NOW!”, I count to 20 and hit the CO2 suppression system. 30 tons of CO2 gas fills plant.

I walk outside of plant after waiting for ventilation system to clear out CO2 (we have timer system). I expect to get arrested for killing workers. Floor boss walks up to me, expect punch, get hug. Workers running up shaking hand and a bottle comes out and we celebrate everyone okay.

We salvage equipment with minimum damage and thank god no one dies. Next day I am in office getting screamed at management because fire is embarrassment and it would be a week before ready to run again (to test for damage, investigate cause, etc).

I am used to stupid managers.