Lithium was first discovered by a chemist, Johan Arfwedson in 1817. It is a soft, white metal that is relatively rare, but widely distributed in the earth’s surface in low concentrations. It appears naturally only in compounds with other elements, typically forming salts. It has the atomic number of three, and is represented on the Periodic Chart by the symbol Li.
Lithium is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element, and with hydrogen and helium, appears to be a primordial element originating in the “Big Bang”. It is similar to magnesium in that it is highly flammable and it is also reactive in water or water vapors. It is commonly obtained from clay or brines, and in commercial qualities it is found beneath dry salt lake beds, where shallow seas once lingered, and then evaporated. Lithium has been used to produce both fission and fusion reactions in nuclear weapons, as the transmutation of lithium atoms to tritium was the first man-made fusion reaction.
Lithium is a good conductor of heat and electricity, making it suitable for the Lithium-ion and Lithium-carbonate rechargeable batteries that appear to hold the future of storage for renewable forms of energy in electric vehicles and other applications such as laptop computers and mobile phones.
|Bolivian Salt Flats|
South America has emerged as the major source of Lithium from the brine of dry salt beds. Argentina is second to Chile in the annual production of lithium, but has 7.5 million tons of Lithium reserves, Chile about 6 million tons of reserves, and Bolivia has 5.4 million tons of reserves. Australia, Russia, China, and the United States are also Lithium players with significant reserves. The United States mines its Lithium from brine pools in Nevada. Recent unconfirmed reports suggest that Afghanistan may have significant deposits of Lithium.
|Bolivian Lithium Salt Flats|
Demand for this metal has skyrocketed, and prices have doubled. Demand for this element is increasing faster than production and will likely remain that way for some time to come. Its not Gold, but it is in high demand that is getting higher as the world turns to electric cars.