The Facts

Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that belongs to the alkali metal group of chemical elements. It is represented by the symbol Li, and it has the atomic number 3. Under standard conditions it is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element.

Symbol:
Li
Atomic number:
3
Electron configuration:
[He] 2s1
Atomic mass:
6.941 u ± 0.002
Melting point:
180.5 °C
Electrons per shell:
2,1
Boiling point:
1,342 °C
Photo of Lithium sample
Photo of Lithium sample
Photo of Lithium sample
Photo of Lithium sample

Where is lithium found?

Whilst Lithium is not found in its pure form in nature, because it is so reactive it is, however, found throughout the world. It is found in a variety of areas including seawater, mineral springs, and igneous rocks.

Interesting facts

  • Although it is a metal, it is soft enough to cut with a knife.
  • It is so light it can float on water.
  • Lithium fires are difficult to put out. You can't use water as water will react with the lithium and could make the fire worse. A powder fire extinguisher is needed.
  • Along with hydrogen and helium, lithium was one of the three elements produced in large quantities by the Big Bang.
  • When burning, lithium gives off a bright red flame.
  • Because it is the lightest metal, it can be alloyed with other metals such as aluminum and copper to make strong lightweight metals.
  • Lithium hydroxide can be used to purify air and remove carbon dioxide in spacecraft and submarines.

Uses for lithium?

  • Historically Lithium compounds were used in medicine. There is still a use for the Lithium compounds and psychiartric/antidepression application.
  • During world war II, lithium was used in high-temperature lithium greases for aircraft engines or similar applications.
  • The market demand for lithium increased dramatically during the Cold War with the production of nuclear fusion weapons. Both lithium-6 and lithium-7 produce tritium when irradiated by neutrons. After the end of the nuclear arms race the demand for lithium decreased
  • Lithium is also used to decrease the melting temperature of glass and to improve the melting behavior of aluminium oxide. this property makes it useful in the manufacture of ceramics and glass.
  • By 2007, the main application / use for Lithium was in Lithium batteries.
  • The development of lithium ion batteries increased the demand for lithium and became the dominant use in 2007.[76] With the surge of lithium demand in batteries in the 2000s.

Lithium Batteries

  • Lithium batteries are disposable (primary) batteries that have lithium metal or lithium compounds as an anode. Depending on the design and chemical compounds used, lithium cells can produce voltages from 1.5 V to about 3.7 V, over twice the voltage of an ordinary zinc–carbon battery or alkaline battery.
  • Li batteries are widely used in modern portable consumer electronics, including iPods, iPhone, cameras, camcorders, and cell phones. The diminished battery size versus power aspect of the lithium batteries has been credited with the smaller size of electronics we enjoy today.
  • Li-MnO2 (Li-Mn, “CR”), has a Cathode of Heat-treated manganese dioxide and Electrolyte of Lithium perchlorate, is the most common consumer grade battery, about 80% of the lithium battery market. Uses inexpensive materials. Suitable for low-drain, long-life, low-cost applications. High energy density per both mass and volume. Can deliver high pulse currents. Wide temperature range. With discharge the internal impedance rises and the terminal voltage decreases. Maximum temperature limited to about 60 °C. High self-discharge at high temperatures.
  • Lithium batteries find application in many long-life, critical devices, such as artificial pacemakers and other implantable electronic medical devices. These devices use specialized lithium-iodide batteries designed to last 15 or more years. But for other, less critical applications such as in toys, the lithium battery may actually outlast the device. In such cases, an expensive lithium battery may not be cost-effective.
  • Lithium batteries can be used in place of ordinary alkaline cells in many devices, such as clocks and cameras. Although they are more costly, lithium cells will provide much longer life, thereby minimizing battery replacement. However, attention must be given to the higher voltage developed by the lithium cells before using them as a drop-in replacement in devices that normally use ordinary zinc cells.
  • Compared to variety of previous battery compositions, Lithium is the way of the future – leading other elements in size to power density ratio.
Graph of battery type vs Power density

Credit: International Lithium Corp

Into the future

The lithium-ion battery market is currently dominated by mainly batteries for consumer electronics (mobile phones, notebook PCs, digital cameras). Into the future it is expected the market demand to expand expansion to other applications such as auto applications, mainly hybrid and electric vehicles and industrial/home applications as mainly storage batteries.