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Quick Read

Since the introduction of aluminum into major U.S. markets in the early 1900s, the reach of this metal has grown enormously. As aluminum enters into its second century of widespread use, new scientific and production technologies continue to expand its market potential. Solar panel nanotechnology and aluminum-air batteries will help lead the way toward the development of new and innovative markets in the 21st century.

Take-Away Facts

  • Advanced commuter trains
    The weight reduction enabled by the use of aluminum is a critical design factor in the new, tilting “Pendolinotype” commuter trains. “Pendolino” is an Italian word meaning “pendulum.”
  • U.S. Coast Guard boats
    The U.S. Coast Guard employs aluminum-intensive 47-foot first-response lifeboats. The craft are self-bailing, self-righting and virtually unsinkable and have a long cruising radius for their size.
  • Aluminum-air batteries
    Al-air batteries leverage aluminum’s energy density to produce batteries of remarkable power and efficiency. Batteries of this type provide the potential to power electric cars for up to 1,000 miles.
  • Aluminum goes nano in solar panels
    Research indicates that solar panel efficiency can be improved by up to 22 percent through the use of embedded aluminum studs. These structures are 100 nanometers in length and reflect light into the absorption layer of the solar panels.

New solar energy applications: microscopic aluminum studs

In new research, scientists have demonstrated that the efficiency of solar panel designs can be improved up to 22 percent by covering their surfaces with aluminum studs. These studs, which measure less than 100 nanometers in length, reflect light into the absorption layer of the solar panel. This technology opens up the potential of producing flexible solar panels that could be applied to curved surfaces and produced in sizes that complement laptops and portable electronic devices.

Electric vehicles: aluminum-air batteries aim for 1,000 miles

Aluminum-air batteries have demonstrated the ability to power an electric vehicle for up to 1,000 miles. The Al-air battery consumes aluminum as a fuel. Aluminum’s energy density far surpasses conventional battery technologies and can rival gas and diesel fuels. A global automaker has contracted to purchase production volumes of the battery starting in 2017.

New marine craft: lighter and faster

The low density of aluminum, combined with its high strength, rigidity and corrosion resistance allows marine vessel designers to achieve weight savings of 15 to 20 percent over steel or composite designs. All-aluminum vessels such as wave-piercing catamarans and hydrofoils are revolutionizing transportation across open-water routes. They can reduce travel time by half or more, when compared with the transport times required by traditional steel-intensive craft.

Recycling aluminum saves more than 90 percent of the energy needed to make new aluminum.

Recycling aluminum saves more than 90 percent of the energy that would be needed to create a comparable amount of the metal from raw materials. Tossing away an aluminum can wastes as much energy as pouring out half of that can’s volume of gasoline. Nearly 75 percent of all aluminum produced is still in use today.