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Aluminum is amphoteric because it will react with both acids and bases. A typical reaction with an acid is:

2Al ( s ) + 6HCl ( a q ) 2AlCl 3 ( a q ) + 3H 2 ( g )

The products of the reaction of aluminum with a base depend upon the reaction conditions, with the following being one possibility:

2Al ( s ) + 2NaOH ( a q ) + 6H 2 O ( l ) 2Na [ Al ( OH ) 4 ] ( a q ) + 3H 2 ( g )

With both acids and bases, the reaction with aluminum generates hydrogen gas.

The group 13 elements have a valence shell electron configuration of ns 2 np 1 . Aluminum normally uses all of its valence electrons when it reacts, giving compounds in which it has an oxidation state of 3+. Although many of these compounds are covalent, others, such as AlF 3 and Al 2 (SO 4 ) 3 , are ionic. Aqueous solutions of aluminum salts contain the cation [ Al ( H 2 O ) 6 ] 3+ , abbreviated as Al 3+ ( aq ). Gallium, indium, and thallium also form ionic compounds containing M 3+ ions. These three elements exhibit not only the expected oxidation state of 3+ from the three valence electrons but also an oxidation state (in this case, 1+) that is two below the expected value. This phenomenon, the inert pair effect, refers to the formation of a stable ion with an oxidation state two lower than expected for the group. The pair of electrons is the valence s orbital for those elements. In general, the inert pair effect is important for the lower p -block elements. In an aqueous solution, the Tl + ( aq ) ion is more stable than is Tl 3+ ( aq ). In general, these metals will react with air and water to form 3+ ions; however, thallium reacts to give thallium(I) derivatives. The metals of group 13 all react directly with nonmetals such as sulfur, phosphorus, and the halogens, forming binary compounds.

The metals of group 13 (Al, Ga, In, and Tl) are all reactive. However, passivation occurs as a tough, hard, thin film of the metal oxide forms upon exposure to air. Disruption of this film may counter the passivation, allowing the metal to react. One way to disrupt the film is to expose the passivated metal to mercury. Some of the metal dissolves in the mercury to form an amalgam, which sheds the protective oxide layer to expose the metal to further reaction. The formation of an amalgam allows the metal to react with air and water.

The most important uses of aluminum are in the construction and transportation industries, and in the manufacture of aluminum cans and aluminum foil. These uses depend on the lightness, toughness, and strength of the metal, as well as its resistance to corrosion. Because aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat and resists corrosion, it is useful in the manufacture of cooking utensils.

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Source:  OpenStax, Chemistry. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11760/1.9
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