Lithium, under standard conditions, is the lightest solid element in the periodic table and would, if it didn’t react so violently with water, float.
Lithium is most widely used in its oxide form (Li2O) in the production of glass and ceramics. The Lithium Oxide is used in this industry as a flux (chemical cleaning agent) to remove impurities and to reduce the coefficient of expansion (how much the size of the material changes under temperature).
Another common use of Lithium is in grease i.e lubricants. Lithium, in the form of Lithium Hydroxide (LiOH), forms a soap when heated with a fat. This soap has the ability to thicken oils and reduce their thermal expansion coefficient making the lubricant resistant to a wide range of temperatures.
By far the fastest growing use of Lithium is in the electrical industry i.e. batteries. Lithium has a low atomic mass and a high charge/power to weight ratio meaning it can generate a relatively high voltage per cell (3 volts per cell) and is thus an appropriate material for use in batteries. Lithium, in the form of Lithium Hydroxide, is also used in the production of cathodes for these Lithium-ion batteries.
Like other members of the minor metal trade, Lipmann Walton has been watching developments in the Lithium market. As with other elements, for trade to take place some form of standard product needs acceptance to create liquidity. Because Lithium, in metal form, is highly reactive with moisture as well as the atmosphere, holding stock in this form – even if vacuum packed – is not practical; nor is the metallic form the product desired by end users. Meantime, with prospects of demand via new batteries, being developed by Tesla and others, junior miners boast potential new supply of Lithium units from both brines and clays. These products are not tradable either as ores can contain as little 0.2% Li. By contrast, concentrated forms of Lithium, such as Lithium Carbonate (Li2CO3) as well as Lithium Chloride and Lithium Hydroxide, have greater prospect. It is impossible not to wonder whether VW’s recent exposure for falsifying emission levels of diesel cars will have the unintended effect of spurring electric vehicle development and thus the demand for Lithium.
It is thought that Lithium is one of only three elements, the other two being hydrogen and helium, that was formed in noteworthy quantities during the big bang. Moreover, it is believed that these elements were created in the first three minutes of the universe’s existence.
Lithium was first detected as an element by a Swedish chemist called J.A. Arfvedson in 1817. It was a year later until it was isolated in its pure form by the English chemist Humphry Davy.
The name Lithium comes from the Greek word “lithos” meaning “stone”. It was named by its discoverer Johann Arfvedson.
Lithium is used in many psychiatric medications as it affects the flow of sodium ions through nerves and muscle cells in the body. Sodium ions affect excitation. Therefore, Lithium can be used to treat disorders such as bipolarism and depression.
For more information about Lithium, please see our articles: ‘An introduction to Lithium Ion batteries’ ‘Will the Tesla battery revolutionise demand for Lithium’
Relative atomic mass
84.8 W /m/K