Lithium is a soft and silvery Alkali metal, the chemical element symbol is [Li], it has an atomic weight of number 3 and under standard (laboratory) conditions, it is the lightest metal as well as being the lightest known solid element. A lithium atom has three protons and three electrons, it can easily lose one of its electrons resulting in a change state with more positive protons than electrons so will have an overall positive charge and is, therefore, a positive ion.
As will all Alkali metals, lithium is highly reactive and flammable, it oxidises quickly and the rate of speed can be seen if a piece of it is cut with a blade and the reaction observed, it turns from a very shiny surface to a dull colour then a blackened surface in just a matter of seconds.
Due to its highly reactive and volatile nature, raw lithium is stored in mineral oil where oxygen or water that reacts with it to create caustic hydroxide being produced, as well as that, other reactive elements can not get to the metal offering some protection from accidents with its storage or use, under controlled conditions and with adequate training, it should still be treated with the utmost respect.
Lithium is a poisonous substance if ingested or breathed inward from the boiling or reactive stages – the gas molecules are in a constate rate of random motion and as such the kinetic energy of the molecules when dissolved in a liquid decreases, with this decrease of kinetic energy, heat is the result as well as noxious substances with the solid element being diffused into a gas.
With the ongoing technology age, lithium (metal) has many uses – for batteries, cars and transportation, iphones, tablets and more, due to a global shortage (but not supply) the USA and other developed countries advancement toward becoming independent of fossil fuels with a reliance on alternative energies has been stalled. lithium is the 33rd most abundant element on earth, it does not occur natually due to its volatile nature but is extracted from solid rock matter for industrial processing and purification.
Lithium is found in abundance in South America, particularly Chile where the cheapest method of extraction is utilised which is by evaporating salt brines in solar ponds to extract the metal, this method deploys the usage of cheap and very toxic PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) – in the most active lithium mining and extraction region, two-thirds of the localised drinking water is used for the process with some tailings leaching back into the groundwater.
With new tech and emerging manufacturing processes, cleaner base extraction techniques are being developed to make the systems cleaner as well as more efficient, as lithium is a very much needed product, countries are taking note to further improvements.
Not only can we find lithium in nature but also in dietary supplements, it is found in drinking water, grains, vegetables, meat, kelp and fish – it is also found in very low levels within the body and lithium salts (lithium carbonate Li2CO3) have proven to be useful as a mood-stabilizing drug in the treatment of bi-polar (manic-depressive) disorder.
There are many more uses for the alkali metal as well as that with batteries and mental wellbeing/aligning:
- Lithium stearate is mixed with oils to create all purpose high-temperature lubricants.
- Lithium hydroxide has uses in space vehicles to absorb dangerous carbon dioxide.
- Lithium is mixed and alloyed with aluminium, cadmium, copper and manganese to create high-performance advanced alloys for the aircraft industry.
- Nuclear application utilise lithium compounds as well as for reagents in organic chemistry (LiMe, LiPh, etc).
- High strength glass and ceramics, as well as heatsinks for advanced applications, can be created due to lithium having the highest specific heat of any solid element for heat transfer operations – the list of uses goes on and on.
We are finding new used and complex compounds but we will not be running out of this element any time soon as global supplies are immense, although had to accurately scale, it is estimated that there are between 18-40 million tons (in the wild). A Tesla 70 kWh batteries uses 63kg of lithium carbonate (Li2C03) for its construction, even with the current the rate of uptake of electric cars as well as other devices and manufacturing processes, it would take a long time to run out.