Aluminium (Al) is an abundant material, making up as much as 8% of the earth’s crust and appearing pervasively in the supply chain of consumable goods. It is estimated that Europeans on average consume 3 – 10 milligrams (mg) of aluminium from natural food sources daily. Negative effects associated with aluminium exposure are minimal, while the positives of utilizing this naturally-occurring metal are enormous. Due to its incredibly low density and excellent corrosion-resistant properties, it has been implemented in production at every level of human manufacturing, from food storage to aerospace development.
Millions of tons of aluminium are processed per annum, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs worldwide. Yet, despite the relative benignity of the material, there are difficulties associated with aluminium handling and processing, which necessitate advanced material solutions.
Environmental Impact of Alumina Extraction
The primary issue facing the aluminium industry is with primary aluminium production, which involves the extraction of alumina (Al2O3) from bauxite ore in a chemical digestion process. The effluent material, or “red mud”, is an insoluble waste product with few established applications. This presents significant storage difficulties, with different refineries turning to marine dumping, lagooning, or dry-stacking to resolve their bauxite waste.
However, the industry has made concerted efforts to improve the sustainability of aluminium production and reduce the carbon footprint of aluminium manufacturing. Superior aluminium handling equipment and methods have enhanced the potential of both primary and secondary, or recycled, aluminium processes – which are as much as 92% more energy efficient than conventional production methods.
Difficulties for Aluminium Handling Equipment
Both primary and secondary aluminium handling require exceptionally durable materials with high-thermal and corrosion resistant properties. Molten aluminium is smelted at temperatures of up to 980°C (1796°F), and can chemically corrode materials through thermal spalling or wetting. This can reduce the service lives of refractory components such as thermocouples and heater tubes, resulting in significant maintenance costs.
Molten aluminium handling is routinely performed using advanced sialon ceramics, which are particularly resistant to molten aluminium corrosion and wetting. These excellent mechanical properties are associated with high strength and toughness, and outstanding degrees of formability, allowing them to be formed into a range of component shapes.
Sialon ceramics are commonly formed into aluminium handling components, including thermocouple sheaths, level sensors, as well as heater and riser tubes. These are exceptionally low maintenance parts, enabling improved industrial throughput and reduced mechanical downtime.
Aluminium Handling Equipment from International Syalons
International Syalons are leading suppliers of advanced sialon ceramic components for numerous applications, providing solutions for aluminium handling and processing applications. Our Syalon 101 material is optimized for non-ferrous metal forming procedures, and is fast becoming the industry standard material for aluminium handling.