Aluminium as a miracle material.
According to space pioneer hero Impey Barbicane in “From the Earth to the Moon” by Jules Verne, aluminium “possesses the whiteness of silver, the indestructibility of gold, the tenacity of iron, the fusibility of copper, the lightness of glass” – clearly the ideal choice of material for the capsule that was about to be launched from a cannon into space. While much of what the great French storyteller wrote may have been the stuff of fantasy, his praise of aluminium has been borne out by subsequent developments. Aluminium is the most widespread metal in the earth’s crust, but almost always occurs in bound form. It was only in 1854 that anything approaching an economically viable process for its extraction was developed. Feather-light yet incredibly strong, tough, corrosion-resistant, easily cleaned and sufficiently soft to be sculpted into complex shapes, it was no wonder aluminium soon became known as “the miracle material.”
It was employed mainly for jewellery purposes, with some metals and artworks made from aluminium attracting higher prices than those from gold or platinum. Its use in automotive construction still lay far into the future.
A metal becomes fashionable.
This metal also became an artist’s material: the Bauhaus architects designed aluminium furniture for their modular living environments, and in the 1960s, fashion designer Paco Rabanne created garments from ultra-thin aluminium discs. But these unconventional ways of using and fashioning the metal into shape were the culmination of a long and complex development history. The Hall-Héroult process, using an electrolysis technique for industrial-scale production of aluminium in viable quantities, was not introduced until 1886. In 1900, worldwide production was approximately 5,700 tonnes. Today, aluminium is the second most important industrial metal, after iron, with total global production in 2011 of more than 50 million tonnes. Aluminium has become the emblem of the modern age. It surrounds us in the cars we drive and the aircraft we fly in. The story of aluminium is closely intertwined with the past and present of our mobile society.
The art of modern contemporary.
The Silver Arrow cars extended the aluminium success story into the domain of automotive construction. So the aluminium body of the new SL models continues a longstanding Mercedes-Benz tradition.
Lightweight construction boosts performance, while reducing fuel consumption and emissions. The aluminium body also outperforms the steel structure of the predecessor model in terms of rigidity and safety.
Much better than steel.
In spite of its energy-intensive production process, aluminium also offers huge energy savings. A study by the Energy Department in the USA found that the energy savings generated over the life cycle of an aluminium-intensive vehicle exceed the energy input into the production of the material by twelve to one. For example, the body of the new SL weighs around 110 kg less than its predecessor. Low weight means improved performance and lower fuel consumption. The rule of thumb for auto designers is that a weight reduction of 100 kg corresponds to fuel savings of around 0.3 litres per 100 km.
Over the entire life cycle of the vehicle, that means far fewer refuelling stops and much lower running costs. So there is good reason to join with Jules Verne in shouting “Hurrah for aluminium!”