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Lithium

What Is Lithium?

Lithium is a silvery-white metal belonging to the alkali metal group. It is not freely found in nature but as a group of chemical compounds mostly occurring in pegmatitic minerals, brines and clays. Lithium can also be isolated from a mixture of potassium and lithium chloride.

Lithium is very soft and can be cut easily with a knife. Once it reacts with air the surface starts to tarnish changing from silvery-gray to black. Lithium is the lightest metal, is highly reactive and inflammable and is therefore stored in mineral oils like petroleum jelly.

Lithium has the highest specific heat capacity of any solid element but has one of the lowest melting points amongst all the metals. It is a good conductor of electricity and heat. It is so light it can float on water and oil.

What Is Lithium Used For?

Most consumers would have heard of lithium-ion batteries; lithium is used because it is lightweight and has a high electrochemical potential, meaning it can hold energy. Lithium is also alloyed with cadmium, copper, aluminium and manganese to form strong, lightweight metals for aircrafts.

It is used as a heat transfer medium and can be found in ceramics and glasses. Lithium is also used in submarines and aircrafts as an air purifier. Lithium carbonate is the salts of the metal and is effective in correcting brain imbalances which lead to mood disorders, like bipolar, depression and severe headaches.

Where Is Lithium Produced?

According to Western Lithium:

“South America accounted for 60% of world output of lithium in 2008, followed by Australia and China which combined produced 30% of the total.”

America used to have two operating mines dedicated to lithium production but they closed down, however, should the demand for lithium increase these mines can be reopened.

Conclusion

Lithium is a chemical element from the alkali metal group. It is found in lithium minerals and brines and needs to be stored in mineral oils as it reacts to water and air. Lithium is known for its use in lithium-ion batteries but can be found as an alloying agent to create lightweight yet strong metals. It is used as a heat transfer medium, air purifier and as medication to treat chemical brain imbalances.
South America, Australia and China are currently producing lithium with reserves still found in various other countries.

If you would like to learn more about minerals and mining visit our Mining and Metals page.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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