42 j THE PERFORMANCE ISSUE TECHNOLOGY
WHY LIGHTER EQUALS BETTER A short history of aluminium and why Jaguar is rather good at using it WORDS: Benedikt Sarreiter ILLUSTRATION: Mirko Ilic american horses might well have neighed joyfully if they had had the chance to pull the late 19th century lightweight Studebaker ‘Aluminum Wagon’ – the first vehicle ever built with aluminium components. Back then, Studebaker was the world’s largest maker of horsedrawn carriages and buggies and created the light and beautiful machine utilising 67kg of the metal, for among other things all of its brackets and hardware. There was only one snag: the ‘show wagon’s 10 price was insanely expensive for 1893 – some ten times more than a regular farm version. The vehicle was presented to the public only seven years after the American chemist Charles Martin Hall found a method to produce aluminium more economically than before by passing an electric current through a solution of aluminium oxide in molten cryolite. Before Hall’s discovery the lightweight material was as precious as noble metals like silver, gold and platinum, because despite being the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust, aluminium was difficult to extract from the bauxite ore that contained it. Hall’s breakthrough made large-scale aluminium production possible and with it different usages unfolded. Ask experts like professor Dmitry Eskin from Brunel University in London or Ian Polmear from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, what quality of aluminium fascinates them the most, and the first word that generally springs to mind is, perhaps unsurprisingly, “lightness”. But aluminium has other less well-known positive traits too, “its universality, easiness to work with, its non-corrosive nature and the opportunity for its alloys to achieve high strength,” adds Polmear. These attributes were especially useful in the early days of aviation. Jules Verne predicted the potential of aluminium for sky travel as early as 1865 when he fantasised about a silver aluminium rocket in his novel Journey to the Moon. His dream became reality in the early 20th century when duralumin emerged. The early aluminium alloy developed by the German physicist Alfred Wilm with very small quantities of magnesium, copper and manganese, was ultra-strong but still incredibly light. Duralumin enabled the first all-alu plane, the Junkers J.I ‘flying tank,’ as it was known during World War I. Its revolutionary construction would clear the way for modern aviation. THE PERFORMANCE ISSUE j 43
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