Aluminum is a silvery-white metal, the 13 elements in the periodic table. One surprising fact about aluminum is that it's the most widespread metal on Earth, making up more than 8% of the Earth's core mass. It's also the third most common chemical element on our planet after oxygen and silicon.
At the same time, because it easily binds with other elements, pure aluminum does not occur in nature. This is the reason that people learned about it relatively recently. Formally aluminum was produced for the first time in 1824 and it took people another fifty years to learn to produce it on an industrial scale.
The most common form of aluminum found in nature is aluminum sulfates. These are minerals that combine two sulphuric acids: one based on an alkaline metal (lithium, sodium, potassium rubidium or cesium) and one based on metal from the third group of the periodic table, primarily aluminum.
Aluminum sulfates are used to this day to clean water, for cooking, in medicine, in cosmetology, in the chemical industry, and in other sectors. By the way, aluminum got its name from aluminum sulfates which in Latin were called lumen.
Today we know about almost 300 various aluminum compounds and minerals containing aluminum, from feldspar, a key source mineral on Earth, to ruby, sapphire, and emerald, which are far less common.
But regardless of how common aluminum may be, it may have remained hidden forever if it hadn't been for electricity. The discovery of aluminum was made possible when scientists were able to use electricity to break down chemical compounds into their elements. In the 19 century, the Danish physicist Christian Oersted used electrolysis to obtain aluminum. Electrolysis or electrolytic reduction is the process that is used to produce aluminum today as well.
Another rather common mineral, bauxite, is used today as the primary raw material in aluminum production. Bauxite is a clay mineral comprising various modifications of aluminum hydroxide mixed with iron, silicon, titanium, sulfur, gallium, chromium, vanadium oxides, as well as sulphuric calcium, iron and magnesium carbonates. In other words, your typical bauxite contains almost half the periodic table. By the way, because of the texture of bauxite about a hundred years ago, aluminum was often referred to rather poetically as silver obtained from clay. On the average 4-5 tonnes of bauxite are needed to produce 1 tonne of aluminum.