Lithium (Li) is a chemical element of the periodic table, located in group 1 and period 2, having the atomic number 3. It is a soft, silvery-white alkali metal whose name comes from the Greek word “lithos” (which means stone).
At standard conditions, it is the least dense metal and the least dense solid element. Lithium has a shiny sheen when cut, but moist air corrodes it quickly, turning it dull silvery gray, then black.
Lithium is only found naturally in compounds, such as pegmatite rocks, which were once the primary source of lithium.
Heat-resistant glass and ceramics, lithium grease lubricants, lithium metal batteries, and lithium-ion batteries are just a few industrial uses of lithium and its compounds.
In the treatment of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, lithium salts have been shown to be effective as a mood stabilizer and antidepressant.
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Lithium Element Information
|Lithium is found in the first column of the periodic table below the hydrogen element.|
|Origin of name||Greek word “lithos” (which means stone)|
|Atomic number (Z)||3|
|Atomic mass||6.941 u|
|Atomic radius||152 pm|
|Covalent radius||128±7 pm|
|Van der Waals radius||182 pm|
|Melting point||180.50 ℃, 356.90 ℉, 453.65 K|
|Boiling point||1330 ℃, 2426 ℉, 1603 K|
|Electron configuration||[He] 2s1|
|Electrons per shell||2, 1|
|Learn how to draw: Lithium Bohr Model|
|Crystal structure||Body-centered cubic (bcc)|
|Phase at r.t||Solid|
|Density near r.t||0.534 g/cm3|
|Main isotopes||Lithium-6, Lithium-7|
|Electronegativity (Pauling scale)||0.98|
|Learn how to find: Lithium Valence Electrons|
|Discovered by||Johan August Arfwedson in 1817|
How was Lithium discovered?
In the 1790s, a Brazilian scientist José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva discovered the first lithium mineral petalite LiAlSi4O10 on the Swedish island of Utö.
When Johan August Arfvedson of Stockholm examined it in 1817, he came to the conclusion that it contained lithium, a metal that was unknown at the time.
Later, Arfwedson found that this same element was contained in the minerals spodumene and lepidolite.
Both Arfwedson and Christian Gmelin (who first noticed in 1818 that flames produced by lithium salts have a vivid red color) attempted to separate the pure element from its salts but were unsuccessful.
It wasn’t isolated until 1821, when William Thomas Brande did so by electrolyzing lithium oxide, a technique that had previously been used by chemist Sir Humphry Davy to separate the alkali metals potassium and sodium.
In 1855, Robert Bunsen and Augustus Matthiessen electrolyzed lithium chloride to produce more lithium.
Following the discovery of this method, the German company Metallgesellschaft AG began producing lithium on a large scale in 1923. They did this by electrolyzing a liquid solution of lithium chloride and potassium chloride.
In 1949, John Cade, an Australian psychiatrist, is credited for reintroducing and popularizing the use of lithium to treat mania.
Lithium’s mood-stabilizing potential for treating mania and depression quickly gained popularity in Europe and the US around the middle of the 20th century.
How is Lithium produced?
A mixture of fused lithium chloride and potassium chloride is electrolyzed to create lithium metal at a temperature of about 450 ℃. However, lithium is mostly obtained from brines and ores.
Here’s a list of countries ranked by lithium mine production as of 2018:
Lithium is extracted in the US from brine pools in Nevada.
According to the US Geological Survey, the top four lithium-producing nations in the world as of 2019 are Australia, Chile, China, and Argentina.
A region called the Lithium Triangle comprises the three nations of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. Over 75% of the known lithium reserves are believed to be located in the Lithium Triangle.
In July 2018, it has found 2.5 million tonnes of high-grade lithium resources and 124 million pounds of uranium resources in its Falchani hard rock deposit in the region Puno.
Historically, lithium and its compounds were isolated and mined from hard rock, but by the 1990s, mineral springs, brine pools, and brine deposits had taken over as the main sources.
Properties of Lithium
Among all the alkali metals, lithium has the lowest density at 0.534 g/cm3, the highest melting point at 180.50 ℃, and the highest boiling point at 1330 ℃.
Lithium is much more reactive when it is molten than when it is solid.
It is possible to cut lithium with a knife. When cut, it has a silvery-white color that immediately turns gray as it oxidizes to become lithium oxide.
Although lithium is the least reactive of the alkali metals, it is a good conductor of heat and electricity and a highly reactive element.
Similar to sodium, lithium experiences diffusionless phase change transformations below 70 K.
Along with sodium and potassium, lithium is one of only three metals that can float on water.
Lithium possesses a rhombohedral crystal system at 4.2 K, which changes to a face-centered cubic and then a body-centered cubic at the higher temperatures.
Where is Lithium found in Nature?
According to modern cosmological theory, lithium (with beryllium and boron) was one of three elements synthesized in the Big Bang. Brown dwarf substellar objects and some irregular orange stars also contain lithium.
Despite being widely spread throughout the planet, lithium does not naturally exist in an elemental state due to its high reactivity.
Roughly 0.002% of the Earth’s crust is composed of lithium. Lithium is the 25th most abundant element on Earth, at 20 milligrams per kilogram of crust.
Lithium is a somewhat rare element, although it is found in many rocks and some brines, but always in extremely low amounts. Lithium mineral and brine resources are very abundant, although only a small percentage of them have actual or potential commercial importance. Many are extremely little, while others are of insufficient quality.
Countless plants, plankton, and invertebrates have trace amounts of lithium, with concentrations ranging from 69 to 5,760 parts per billion (ppb). In vertebrates, the concentration is slightly lower, and almost all vertebrate tissue and bodily fluids contain lithium ranging from 21 to 763 ppb.
What are the Uses of Lithium?
Grease has been the 3rd most common application of lithium. Lithium soap may thicken oils, and it is used to create multipurpose, high-temperature lubricating greases.
To reduce veining, lithium compounds are added as additives (fluxes) to foundry sand for iron casting.
Metallic lithium, when used as a flux for welding or soldering, encourages the fusing of metals throughout the operation and prevents the formation of oxides by absorbing impurities.
The majority of lithium is being used to create lithium-ion batteries for mobile phones and EVs. Lithium-ion polymer, lithium iron phosphate, and nanowire batteries are some lithium-based rechargeable batteries.
Red fireworks and flares contain lithium compounds as pyrotechnic colorants and oxidizers.
In thermonuclear weapons, lithium hydride containing lithium-6 is utilized as fuel for the bomb’s fusion stage.
It has been found that lithium works well in aiding the perfection of silicon nano-welds in electronic parts for electric batteries and other devices.
Lithium chloride and lithium bromide are utilized as desiccants for gas streams as they are hygroscopic substances.
In small spaces, like those found in spaceships and submarines, lithium hydroxide and lithium peroxide are the salts most often used to remove carbon dioxide and purify the air.
Lithium can also be utilized to generate alpha particles or helium nuclei.
Bipolar disorder can be treated with lithium. According to a study, lithium therapy used to treat bipolar disorder had no impact on a patient’s body weight.
Artificially produced lithium fluoride crystal is transparent and clear, and is often used in optics for infrared (IR), ultraviolet (UV) applications.
The lithium-ion battery is now the industry standard for batteries used in portable computers. About 90% of laptops and 60% of cell phones use lithium-ion batteries.
For the preparation of organic compounds, many lithium compounds are utilized as reagents. Lithium triethylborohydride, lithium aluminum hydride, n-butyllithium, and tert-butyllithium are a few common compounds.
Interesting Facts about Lithium
Lithium has the lowest density among all metals. Its density is about half that of water, so it floats on water.
Lithium is soft enough to be cut with a knife.
Lithium burns with a red-colored flame when it comes in contact with the air.
Lithium never occurs freely in nature and is available only in igneous rocks.
Lithium reacts vigorously with air and water, so it is stored in oil to prevent the reaction with water.