There are many reasons why aluminum has been one of the most important materials of the last one hundred years but being extremely reflective is not one of the items that would top many lists. That’s because aluminum has so many valuable qualities that have been transformative in a plethora of industries, changing the way we eat, travel, communicate and live.
Since it first became commercially viable in the early 20th century, aluminum alloys have been prized for their extremely high strength-to-weight ratio. Despite being the third most abundant element in the earth’s crust, the highly reactive nature of aluminum made it very rare to find this metal in its pure form. It took decades of experiments by early metallurgists and engineers to figure out a cost effective way to extract aluminum from various ores such as bauxite and alum.
Once this was accomplished, modern industry has been using aluminum alloys in an ever growing number of creative ways. Its many benefits, besides its lightweight and high strength, include excellent corrosion resistance, thermal and electrical conductivity, durability, recyclability and hygiene. While it is also prized for its aesthetic appearance, many people may not realize that its shiny surface is actually a tremendous asset when it comes to a variety of applications.
Aluminum’s appearance means more than just looking good
From its earliest days, aluminum was recognized for its sleek, modern look. That’s why it was prominently featured in early twentieth century architecture, such as many of the decorative features on the Empire State Building. Aluminum became associated with both the art deco movement and the explosion of skyscrapers that transformed American cities. It has also been used in jewelry, electronics, home appliances and other applications due in large part to its shiny, clean appearance.
But there’s more to aluminum’s good looks. Even in their natural state, aluminum alloys are naturally reflective, they make a perfect choice whenever it’s desirable to have a material that reflects light. This property was first put to good use in architecture.
Aluminum’s use in architecture
As mentioned, aluminum’s shiny appearance helped to shape modern architecture, but the ability to reflect light is now playing a much larger role than simple aesthetics. That’s because in the sustainable architecture movement, reflectivity is an important method for helping to cool buildings in an environmentally conscious way.
In addition to being highly recyclable and reusable, aluminum reflects light more efficiently than most other metals without the need for expensive coatings. Aluminum roofs have been found to reflect as much as 95% of sunlight, which is a great boost to a building’s efficiency. Aluminum’s natural corrosion resistance will make structures last longer with fewer repairs and cleanings than other materials.
Aluminum’s use in solar applications
More recently, aluminum has been integral to the development of solar technologies. There are two main types of solar energy producing technologies, thermal and photovoltaic (PV) concentrating models. In both cases, the more light you can reflect, the more efficient the process is.
One of the simplest solar energy technologies involves using reflectors to concentrate sunlight in order to heat a space or water. Especially popular in developing nations, these kinds of solar reflectors require no other energy and are therefore extremely valuable in places where electricity may be expensive or absent all together.
A more recent invention is known as concentrating solar power, which relies on reflectors to concentrate light from the sun onto a receiver that will then convert it into heat. The heat is then used to heat water, creating steam that drives a turbine, which will then generate electricity or be used to power an industrial process.
Another solar alternative is concentrator photovoltaic technology, which generates electricity from sunlight. In this case, the aluminum can be used to help focus the sun’s light onto multi-junction solar cells. These cells generate electricity, but they tend to be expensive, and are not yet as cost effective as fossil fuels. These technologies are improving all the time, and one of the major factors that is helping increase their cost effectiveness is the ability to more efficiently concentrate and convert sunlight into electricity. Aluminum is playing a significant role in this process.
Aluminum’s use in lighting applications
Lighting fixtures are another beneficiary of aluminum’s natural reflectivity. When aluminum is polished, it becomes highly reflective and perfect for both internal and external lighting applications. Aluminum can assist in increasing the reflective efficiency of a lighting fixture. The more reflective the fixture, the less energy is required to light an area.
When you combine aluminum’s reflectivity with its corrosion resistance and thermal conductivity, aluminum lighting fixtures are more durable and safer than those made with comparable materials.
In addition to the applications already mentioned, other uses for reflective aluminum include bicycle and automobile parts, thermal blankets, aerospace parts, telescopes, window fixtures, electronics, lasers, medical/dental tools and fixtures, and more.
Which alloys are most suitable for reflexivity?
While most aluminum options have good reflective abilities, two of the alloy families that are most useful in this area are the 1xxx and 5xxx series. 1050 and 5005 grades are excellent options. Other popular choices include 1070, 1085 and 1090.
Your technical services partner
If you’re looking for an aluminum alloy that offers good reflectivity, your best bet is to work with a material supplier who has a deep understanding of aluminum. At Clinton Aluminum, our experienced and friendly professionals are strongly committed to working with our customers to get the most value out of their purchases. That’s why we work with you through every step of your material procurement process.
If you would like to learn more about the reflective abilities of aluminum, contact us today.