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.
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.
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.
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.