What is Lithium? – Its Properties and Uses

What is Lithium?

Lithium is the third element in the periodic table with three protons and “Li” is a symbol. It has a mass of 6.941 atomic nuclei. Lithium in nature comprises two stable isotopes, lithium-6 and lithium-7. Over 92 percent of the element’s natural abundance is lithium-7. Lithium is a metal that belongs to the alkali group. In its purest form, it is silver-white and so soft that it can be cut with a butter knife. 

Lithium has one of the lowest melting points for a metal and a high boiling point. Lithium is found in practically all igneous rocks and mineral springs. However, it is not found free. Along with hydrogen and helium, it was one of three elements created by the big bang. On the other hand, the pure element is so reactive that it is only found in nature and bound to other elements to form compounds.

Using pure lithium metal requires extra care, as it is exceedingly corrosive under oil or inside a sealed atmosphere metal is kept safe from oxidation. The combination between lithium and oxygen makes it harder to put out fires when they occur.

Lithium is used in medicine, as a heat transfer agent, in alloy production, and in batteries, among other things. Even though lithium compounds are well-known for improving mood, scientists are still baffled about how they do so.

lithium metal

History of Lithium

Petalite, a mineral first discovered in the 1790s, was known to flame red in a fire. Johan August Arfvedson, a Swedish chemist, discovered in 1817 that the mineral contained an undiscovered ingredient responsible for the colored flame. Despite his best efforts, Arfvedson could not produce a pure metal out of the substance he identified.

Lithion, a derivation of Greek o lthos’stone,’ was offered by his academic tutor Jöns Jakob Berzelius as a name, which, like the names of the other two known alkali metals sodium and potassium, identifies the substance from which it was derived. Lithium, in its Latinized form, has finally triumphed.

Christian Gottlob Gmelin, a German chemist, discovered that lithium salts produced a red flame color in 1818. In the years that followed, both scientists failed to isolate this substance. It was originally accomplished in 1818 by William Thomas Brande and Sir Humphry Davy using a lithium oxide electrolytic method (Li2O). 

Larger volumes of pure lithium were created by electrolysis of lithium chloride (LiCl) in 1855 by Robert Bunsen and Augustus Matthiessen. Wilhelm Schlenk created the first organolithium compounds from organic mercury compounds in 1917. The German metal firm began commercial production in 1923 in the Hans-Heinrich-Hütte in Langelsheim, Harz, where a melt of lithium and potassium chloride (KCl) was electrolyzed.

Apart from its use as a lubricant (mineral oil thickened with lithium stearate) and in the glass industry until after WWII, lithium had few applications (lithium carbonate or lithium oxide). It changed when the United States needed tritium to develop hydrogen bombs, which can be synthesized from lithium. It began with a large-scale campaign, particularly around Kings Mountain, North Carolina.

Due to the short lithium tritium half-life required, a substantial stock of lithium was collected between 1953 and 1963, finally introduced into the market after the Cold War ended in 1993. In addition to mining, brine extraction was becoming increasingly significant.

Manufacturing Process of Lithium

Lithium is usually extracted from the evaporation of saline water (groundwater, salt lakes). Getting rocks out of open-pit mining is quite rare. Saline groundwater is brought up to the surface, and evaporation takes place in the sun for several months to collect lithium. Treatment plants remove unwanted boron and magnesium filtered out of pond water by pumping the solution. She will then be given sodium carbonate therapy.

A filter and a dehydrator are used to remove the liquid lithium carbonate that has precipitated. The Salt Lake is refilled with excess brine. The groundwater usage accelerates the drying out of the terrain in arid countries like Chile.

Lithium carbonate is precipitated from lithium-containing salt solutions by evaporating water and adding sodium carbonate (soda). The brine is first concentrated in the air until it has more than 5% of its lithium concentration. Lithium carbonate, which is only weakly soluble, precipitates when added to sodium carbonate.

2LiCl + Na2CO3   =   Li2CO3 + 2NaCl

Lithium carbonate is first treated with hydrochloric acid to produce metallic lithium. Carbon dioxide is released as a gas, and lithium chloride is dissolved. Vacuum evaporators are used to concentrate the solution until the chloride crystallizes.

Li2CO3 + 2H3O+ + 2Cl= 2Li+ + 2Cl+ CO2 + 3H2O

The lithium chloride extraction equipment requires special steels or nickel alloy since the brine is extremely corrosive. It is possible to generate metallic lithium by using fused-salt electrolysis of a mixture of 450-500 ° C melting eutectic lithium chloride and potassium chloride.

Because potassium has a lower electrode potential in the chloride melt, it is not deposited in the electrolysis. There are. However, traces of sodium make lithium more reactive (beneficial in organic chemistry, bad for Li batteries).

Lithium liquid concentrates there because it collects on the electrolyte surface and is relatively easy to remove from the electrolysis cell. Electrolysis of lithium chloride in pyridine can also be used to extract lithium. This technique is best suited for use in a laboratory environment.

Compounds Of Lithium

Some Common Compounds of Lithium are:

  • Lithium aluminum hydride (LiAlH4)
  • Lithium borate (Li2B4O7)
  • Lithium carbonate (Li2CO3)
  • Lithium chloride (LiCl)
  • Lithium hydride (LiH)
  • Lithium hydroxide (LiOH)
  • Lithium niobate (LiNbO3)
  • Lithium tantalate (LiTaO)

Properties of Lithium

  • Organic and inorganic reactants interact with lithium in a variety of chemical reactions. Monoxide and peroxide are formed when it combines with oxygen.
  • Water reacts violently with Metallic Lithium, so it’s so dangerous.
  • The calorific capacity of this metal is one of its most important characteristics. Other characteristics include a wide liquid temperature range and good thermal conductivity.
  • Both the density and viscosity of lithium are quite low.
  • Ethylamine, for example, dissolves this element in the metallic state, whereas hydrocarbons do not.

Uses of Lithium:

  • It is possible to make a low-density aluminum-magnesium alloy containing lithium, such as LA-141 (14 percent lithium, 1% aluminum, 85% magnesium). This metal alloy is employed in the manufacture of aircraft. Lubricating greases are highly water-resistant, thanks to lithium stearate (LiOH + tallow), which acts as a thinner or gelling agent in the oil-to-lubricating grease conversion process.
  • Carbon dioxide is absorbed in spacecraft and submarines using lithium hydroxide. Hydrogen can be generated from the elemental hydride for military or metrological purposes. Hydrocarbons like alkanes or paraffin and alkenes or olefins can be synthesized using a variety of organolithium chemicals.
  • It is widely employed in cells to extract aluminum by increasing the flow of electricity or reducing production costs, utilized as flux in creating porcelain and enamel, and in medicine to treat manic-depressive psychoses. – Lithium carbonate.
  • Li-Si and Li-Al alloys used as anodes in molten lithium chloride or potassium chloride are being tested to generate an electric current in storage batteries or cells. Tritium (isotopes of hydrogen) is a promoting fuel in the nuclear fusion process, and lithium can be used to produce it.


Lithium is a rare metal that can only be found in minute concentrations in molten rock and saltwater. Many medication therapies rely on its favorable effects on the human brain, even though it is thought to be non-essential to the human body. Lithium has been used in batteries, nuclear fusion reactions, and thermonuclear weapons because of its reactivity.