Lithium is becoming incredibly valuable, often referred to as the “white gold” of our time. This makes us curious about its importance. The key question is: What do we use lithium for? Its use in batteries and medicine has made it highly prized. In this article, we will uncover the hidden qualities and characteristics that make lithium a special and sought-after element.
What is lithium?
Lithium holds the third spot on the periodic table, trailing behind hydrogen and helium. Among the alkali metals, it takes the lead, followed by sodium (Na), potassium (K), rubidium (Rb), cesium (Cs), and francium (Fr). It’s labeled with the chemical symbol Li and holds the atomic number 3.
Although finding pure lithium isn’t straightforward due to its reactions with water and oxygen, its appearance is characterized by a shiny silvery-white hue. Yet, the most intriguing aspect of lithium isn’t its color, but its remarkable capability to store energy, allowing it to hold substantial charges in a compact space.
The presence of lithium within minerals like spodumene and lepidolite led to its discovery by Swedish chemist Johan August Arfwedson in 1817. However, it took another 110 years for industrial-scale synthesis to commence.
A significant turning point came in 1990 when the Japanese company Sony introduced the world’s first rechargeable lithium-ion battery. This momentous achievement catapulted the value of lithium, opening new frontiers for its application.
Subsequently, as we’ll explore in this article, the primary application of lithium lies in the creation of lithium batteries, taking over from nickel.
What is lithium used for?
As we have seen at the beginning of the article, the high value of lithium is hidden behind its applications. And it is that this chemical element is present in objects as essential today as mobile phones or computers.
This means that, without realizing it, we all carry a bit of this “white gold” in our pockets. But what else is lithium good for? In case lithium batteries seem little to you, in the following sections we will explain other equally important uses of lithium.
The creation of lithium batteries was not a simple process. In fact, what makes lithium so valuable is also a downside. We are talking about its capacity to store electricity. To do this, lithium must shed its outermost electron. This implies that lithium tends to give up electrons easily, even when it comes into contact with water or air, making lithium a very unstable metal. It is for this reason that lithium oxidizes rapidly on contact with air and reacts violently with water.
When lithium donates an electron, it becomes an ion. Hence many lithium batteries are also known as lithium ion batteries.
4 curiosities of Lithium
As you have been able to verify throughout the article, lithium is a most interesting chemical element. That is why it hides some curiosities:
Lithium is believed to be one of the earliest elements in the universe, along with hydrogen and helium.
Its name means “stone” in Greek, since it was discovered in rock formations.
Unlike other elements, lithium is not found in a free state in nature. Instead, it is found attached to other elements to form compounds. However, these compounds are present in almost all rocks and mineral springs.
Lithium is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element, with a density about half that of water, which means that if lithium did not react with water, it would float on top of it.