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Random Fact: Lovin’ on lithium | Pamdemonium
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Random Fact: Lovin’ on lithium

May 16, 2010

Today we are going to learn about lithium. Random Fact has been reading up on this ultra-light metal because it is all the rage in battery chemistry for electric vehicles. Lithium, of course, also is used to treat bipolar manic episodes and now I understand why those taking it get tested for toxicity levels.

It is a metal. Duh.

It seems odd that the same element used as a mood stabilizer is, at least today, the Holy Grail of battery chemistry. High school chemistry was one of my favorite classes but I still find this juxtaposition of applications a puzzlement.

Back to today’s lesson. Lithium is No. 3 on the Periodic Table of the Elements, which means it is the third lightest element out there – only hydrogen and helium atoms are lighter. For your sake as well as mine, I will forgo discussion of atomic mass. Lithium may be lightweight but it carries a big punch. It is extremely reactive, and a lithium-ion battery has better energy density and power density than the old lead acid battery or even a nickel metal hydride battery. For electric vehicles, that means bigger batteries with bigger ranges that don’t outweigh the vehicle, although the Nissan Leaf battery still is a hefty 600 pounds.

Lithium pellets

Lithium is silvery white and soft. It isn’t the kind of metal used in structural building. Mining it means getting the metal out of rocks and brine because it reacts like crazy and isn’t found in its natural state. The only current U.S. lithium mining operation is in Nevada, though plenty of other companies are digging around. Bolivia, Chile and Argentina have the largest lithium reserves in the world, followed by China, Brazil and the United States. Other applications include ceramics and glass production, lubricants and grease, and rocket propellant.

Your laptop probably has a lithium-based battery. A car battery needs about 100 times more of the raw material. The name comes from “lithos,” the Greek word for stone. I could go on, and will.

Want more? I’ll be looking at the lithium mining and production industry soon for sunpluggers.com.


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