Where Found (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Lithium makes up about 0.006 percent of the Earth’s crust and is found as a trace element in most rocks. The most important lithium ore is spodumene, with extensive deposits in North Carolina, Canada (Quebec), Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Another important commercial source of lithium is lepidolite.
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Primary Uses (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
In combination with other metals, lithium is used as a heat exchanger in nuclear reactors as well as a radiation shield around reactors. Lithium is used as an anode in high-voltage batteries, and lithium compounds are used in the manufacture of rubber products, ceramic products, enamels, dyes, glass, and high-temperature lubricants.
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Technical Definition (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Lithium, symbol Li, is located in Group IA of the periodic table. It has an atomic number of 3 and an atomic weight of 6.941. It is a soft, silvery-white metal and is the lightest known metal. It has a melting point of 180.54° Celsius, a boiling point of 1,347° Celsius, a specific gravity of 0.534, and a specific heat of 0.79 calorie per gram per degree Celsius.
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Description, Distribution, and Forms (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Lithium quickly becomes covered with a gray oxidation layer when it is exposed to air, and because it combines so easily with other elements, lithium is always found chemically bonded in nature. Although a highly reactive element, lithium is less reactive than the other alkali metals. Like the other alkali metals, it easily gives up an electron to form monovalent positive ions.
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History (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Obtaining Lithium (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Lithium chloride is obtained by treating either lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate with hydrochloric acid. Chemists obtain pure metallic lithium by passing electricity through molten lithium chloride or through solutions of lithium chloride in ethanol or acetone in low-carbon steel cells having graphite anodes.
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Uses of Lithium (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Lithium is used to make batteries found in electric meters, cameras, and other electronic equipment, and lithium compounds have numerous practical applications. Lithium carbonate and lithium borate are used in the ceramic industry as glaze constituents, while lithium perchlorate is a powerful oxidizing agent used in solid fuel for rockets. Lithium hydride, a powerful reducing agent, is used in fuel cells, as a shielding material for thermal neutrons emitted from nuclear reactors, and to inflate lifeboats and air balloons. Lithium fluoride is used in infrared spectrometers and as a flux in ceramics, brazing, and welding. Lithium chloride, the most common lithium salt, is used to increase the conductivity of electrolytes in low-temperature dry-cell batteries, as a dehumidifying agent in air-conditioners, and in metallurgical applications. Lithium is combined with aluminum and magnesium to produce structural alloys; lithium-magnesium alloys have the highest strength-to-weight ratio of all structural materials. In medicine, lithium amide is important in the synthesis of antihistamines, and lithium carbonate is used as a drug to treat a form of mental illness known as bipolar affective disorder (or manic-depressive disorder).
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Natural Resources Canada. Canadian Minerals Yearbook, 2005: Lithium. http://www.nrcan-rncan.gc.ca/mms-smm/busi-indu/cmy-amc/content/2005/35.pdf
U.S. Geological Survey. Minerals Information: Lithium Statistics and Information. http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/lithium/
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Lithium (Chemical Elements)
Lithium is the first member of the alkali metal family. The alkali metals are the elements that make up Group 1 (IA) of the periodic table. The periodic table is a chart that shows how chemical elements are related to one another. The alkali metals include sodium, potassium, rubidium, cesium, and rancium. Lithium is also the least dense of all metals. It has a density about half that of water.
Credit for the discovery of lithium usually goes to Swedish chemist Johan August Arfwedson (or Arfvedson; 1792-1841). Arfwedson found the new element in a mineral that had first been identified about twenty years earlier by Brazilian scientist Jozée Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva (1763-1838). That mineral, petalite, is still a major source of lithium today.
Lithium has a number of important and interesting uses. In recent years, it has been used to make lightweight, efficient batteries. Compounds of lithium have also been used to treat a mental disorder known as bipolar disorder.
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