Lithium - overview

Lithium is a silver-white metal. It is the lightest of all the metals and is highly reactive and flammable. The pure metal must be stored in oil to prevent it from being oxidized by air. It is so soft that it can be cut with a knife - and so light that it will float on water (with which it reacts). It is the only metal which reacts with nitrogen. [1]

Lithium was discovered in the 19th century but commercial production was not commenced until 1923.

Lithium Resources and Production

Although Lithium is element no. 3 in the periodic table, it is less common than many of the other low-number chemical elements but is the 25th most abundant element in the Earth's crust - with approximately the same amount occurring as nickel and lead. [1]

The world's leading exporters of lithium are Chile and Argentina. [2] Lithium is also produced in China, Russia, the USA, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Portugal and Zimbabwe. [3]

Lithium is now recycled and new facilities are being developed for lithium reprocessing. In 2009, the USA Department of Energy awarded $9.5 million to an American company to construct the first U.S.-based facility for recycling Li-ion batteries. [4]

Lithium Uses

Lithium has many unique properties - and as a result of this, lithium compounds have a wide range of uses in the modern world. It is used in medicine as a mood stabilizer but its mechanism is still not exactly clear. It elevates tryptophan and serotonin, which stabilize mood, and reduces catcholamine, which is associated with mania. However lithium treatment has noted side effects. [1]

The greatest use of lithium is in the manufacture of ceramics and glassware. [3] Lithium is used as a batch additive to lower firing temperatures and save energy costs. [5]

One of the most major uses of Lithium is in batteries. It is light, it has a high power-to-mass ratio. In 2008, lithium batteries made up 70% of the global rechargeable battery market and growth is expected to continue in this area. [3]

Emulsified Lithium soaps are widely used in the manufacture of lubricating greases - and lithium-based greases are more commonly used than calcium or sodium based greases owing to mechanical characteristics. [6]

Lithium is used in nuclear physics - having use in fusion reactions. Lithium deuteride was used in early hydrogen bombs.

Lithium has the highest specific heat capacity of any solid. This means that the greatest amount of heat input is required to raise its temperature -so it has uses as a coolant.

Lithium is also used in over 60% of all mobile phones - in piezoelectric crystal oscillators. These use the mechanical resonant frequency of the crystal to generate precise frequencies. Some materials used include lithium tantalate and lithium niobate. [1] [7]

Lithium is alloyed with aluminium for aerospace applications. Lithium aluminium alloys can provide weight advantages and are used in some commercial aircraft, as well as U. S. Space Shuttles, Ares rockets and Orion spacecraft. [1] [8]

Lithium has use in optics - such as in focal lenses for telescopes. [1]

Lithium compounds are also used in rocket propellants. [1]

According to the United States Geological Survey (info sourced from Roskill Informational Services), around 37% of the lithium sold in 2008 went to ceramics and glass; 20% went to battery manufacture; 11% went to lubricating greases; 7% went to aluminium production; 5% went to air treatment; 5% went to continuous casting; and 2% to pharmaceuticals. Total world consumption of lithium in 2008 was 21,280 tonnes.[3]

Lithium is considered a critical metal due to its demand for a wide range of uses and its unique properties.

Lithium Facts

Atomic Number3
Melting point (Celsius)180.54ÂșC
Density0.535 g/cc
Hardness (Moh)0.6
Resistivity (nanoOhms / meter at 20ÂșCelsius)92.8

Lithium References:


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