Chem Explorers

The Power of Lithium: From Big Bang Origins to Fluctuating Prices

Natural Existence of Lithium and Its Isotopes

Lithium has three natural isotopes; Lithium-6, Lithium-7 and Lithium-8, with Lithium-7 being the most abundant, accounting for approximately 92.5% of the element’s natural existence. Lithium is a highly reactive metal and, therefore, does not occur naturally in its pure form.

It is usually found in minerals such as spodumene, lepidolite, and petalite. It can also be found in brine pools, geothermal wells, and oil fields.

Where can the Element be Found?

The vast majority of the world’s lithium reserves are found in the Andes mountains spanning across Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia, making the region the major producer of the element.

China, Australia, and some European countries, including Portugal, are also sources of the element. Chile is the world’s largest producer of lithium, accounting for approximately 57% of the same.

The Atacama salt flats in Chile contain major deposits of lithium, with companies such as SQM, Albemarle, and FMC extracting brine pools to produce the element. Argentina has also established itself as a significant player in the industry, with companies such as Orocobre and Ganfeng Lithium operating in the northwestern region of the country.

Australia, on the other hand, is known for its hard rock mineral deposits, such as spodumene. The Greenbushes mine in Western Australia is the world’s largest lithium producer, accounting for over 51% of the world’s supply of hard-rock lithium.

Extraction Methods

The extraction of lithium from minerals is a complex process, but the most common methods are electrolysis, potassium chloride, and molten lithium chloride. The concentration of lithium in spodumene minerals is usually low, and a process known as the “roasting process” is employed to convert the mineral to lithium carbonate.

The lithium carbonate is then treated with hydrochloric acid to produce lithium chloride, which is then electrolyzed. In brine pools, lithium is already in a concentrated form, and the extraction process is faster and straightforward.

Brine pools are first pumped into a pond where they are allowed to evaporate over several months. As the water evaporates, the concentration of lithium in the brine increases.

The lithium-rich brine is then pumped into additional ponds where it is treated with chemicals such as calcium chloride and soda ash to produce lithium carbonate. Potassium chloride is used as an alternative to brine extraction methods.

The solution is heated to temperatures of about 600C, separating the lithium from the other elements in the solution. In molten lithium chloride extraction, lithium chloride is mixed with calcium chloride to form a molten eutectic mixture.

Passage of a current through the mixture melts and dissolves spodumene in it, producing a pure lithium deposit. This method has been proven to produce high purity lithium compared to other methods.


Lithium is a crucial element that is widely used in the manufacturing of various products, most notably batteries. Its discovery and continued use have become essential to modern-day technology.

Understanding how lithium is extracted from its natural environment and the different methods used is crucial, as demand for the element increases with the rise of electric and hybrid electric vehicles. Its speculated that electric vehicles will be the primary driver of lithium demand, and just like with any other essential resource, it’s essential to mine lithium sustainably, with the environment and local communities in mind.

Origin of the Name

Lithium derives its name from the Greek word “lithos,” meaning “stone,” which refers to its discovery in a type of mineral. The name arose due to the mineralogical rarity of the metal.

Johan August Arfvedson, a Swedish chemist, discovered the element in a mineral known as petalite in 1817, but it was not until 1855 that the metal was isolated and named lithium.

Discovery of Lithium

In 1800, Joz Bonifcio de Andrada e Silva discovered petalite in Brazil, which was then sent to Europe for analysis.

Arfvedson, while studying petalite at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, identified a new alkali element, which he named lithium. Arfvedson discovered that lithium salts gave a unique crimson flame when heated.

In the following years, William Brande, an English chemist, further studied the properties of lithium and described the metal’s reaction with water. Robert Bunsen, a German chemist, then obtained lithium through the electrolysis of molten lithium chloride in 1855, which allowed for the first isolated production of the metal.


Lithium has the atomic number three (3) and the symbol Li. It has two stable isotopes and one unstable isotope. The most abundant isotope, lithium-7, has the highest natural occurrence of any element.

Lithium is located in the alkali metal group in the first column of the periodic table and is also part of the second period. The alkali metal group includes the elements lithium, sodium, potassium, rubidium, cesium, and francium.

Lithium is placed in the s block of the periodic table, meaning that it belongs to the group of elements that have their outermost electron shell filled. It is an element that has a low boiling point and melting point.


Lithium is a fascinating element that has come a long way since its discovery in petalite by Johan August Arfvedson in 1817. The naming of the element “lithium” from the Greek word “lithos” signifies its discovery in a mineral.

Lithium’s discovery and identification process through atomic number and its position in the periodic table are essential in understanding its properties and the role it plays in various industries. Lithium’s growing demand in battery technology and other sectors will continue to increase in the future, making it vital to continue safe and sustainable mining practices.

General Properties

The atomic mass of lithium is 6.94, and it has a melting point of 180.5C and boiling point of 1347C. It has a density of 0.53 g/cm at room temperature.

Lithium is highly reactive, and it readily reacts with water. It is also one of the lightest metals, with a specific gravity of approximately 0.53 at room temperature.

Physical Properties

Lithium is a highly malleable and ductile metal, meaning that it can be easily shaped into thin sheets and drawn out into wires. It is also a very soft metal and has a low density, which makes it easy to cut with a knife.

The color of lithium is usually silvery-white, but it can darken due to the presence of moisture in the air.

Chemical Properties

Lithium is highly flammable, and it readily burns in the presence of air or oxygen. It is also highly reactive with other elements and can react with water to produce lithium hydroxide and hydrogen gas.

Lithium has a maximum oxidation state of +1 and is usually found in ionic form in compounds. It has three valence electrons, making it highly reactive, and is known for its ability to form alloys.

Lithium Orbital Diagram and Atomic Data

The electron configuration of lithium is 1s2s, which indicates that it has two electrons in the first energy level and one electron in the second energy level. The atomic structure of lithium has three protons, three electrons, and four neutrons.

The atomic radius of lithium is approximately 152 pm, making it one of the smallest elements in the periodic table. Lithium’s electronegativity and electron affinity are relatively low compared to other elements, such as oxygen and nitrogen, due to its smaller atomic size and therefore weaker attractive force.


Lithium is a unique element with fascinating properties and characteristics. It is essential for a variety of industries, such as battery production and medication.

Understanding the physical, chemical, and general properties of lithium can help researchers develop new applications for the metal and improve its delivery systems. The orbital diagram and atomic data of lithium also provide valuable insight into the metal’s behavior on a molecular level, which can help predict its interaction with other elements in various environments.

Application of Lithium in Batteries

Lithium is widely used in the production of batteries, and much of this can be attributed to the development of lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable batteries that have higher energy densities, longer lifespans, and lower maintenance costs than non-rechargeable lithium batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are found in portable electronics, such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, and smartwatches. Non-rechargeable lithium batteries are found in several applications, including pacemakers, remote controls, and other small electronic devices.

These batteries are also used in emergency lighting situations and are often found in the military.

Use of Lithium in Manufacturing

Lithium is used in the manufacturing of several metals, such as aluminum and magnesium, which results in an improved metal’s strength and weight. The ability of lithium to provide strength without adding a lot of weight makes it a valuable tool in the aerospace and aeronautical engineering industry.

In addition, lithium is also used in armor plating applications due to its high strength, low density, and excellent corrosion properties. When mixed with other metals, lithium can improve their mechanical and physical properties, making it an essential ingredient in manufacturing industries.

Lithium Salts Usage

Lithium salts, such as lithium carbonate and lithium citrate, are used in medications prescribed to manage certain mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder. Lithium salts can stabilize mood swings and reduce the risk of suicide among those with these conditions.

Lithium is also used in the production of glass ceramics and as a fuel storage solution. It is used in air-conditioning refrigerants due to its exceptional thermal conductivity and high latent heat capacity.

Toxicity and Common Health Effects

Lithium is a toxic substance that can cause severe health hazards if handled carelessly. Inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, and rocket exhaust are the sources of exposure.

Common health effects associated with exposure to lithium can range from mild symptoms like irritation to the eyes, skin and respiratory system to more severe symptoms like burns to the skin and eyes, vomiting, dizziness, and damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and stomach. Long-term effects that can arise from excess accumulation of lithium in the body include tremors, impaired memory, anorexia, and even kidney failure.

Lithium is therefore classified as a hazardous substance and should be handled with caution in all its forms.


Lithium has a wide array of applications in various industries, making it an essential element of modern-day technology. However, it is essential to be aware of the potential health hazards and safety precautions when handling it to ensure the safety of those in proximity.

The proper handling and disposal of lithium-containing products should be done with care to avoid any potential injury or illness from exposure.

Lithium as one of the First Three Elements Produced in the Big Bang

Lithium holds the distinction of being one of the first three elements produced in the Big Bang, along with hydrogen and helium. The synthesis of these elements occurred during the early phase of the universe, approximately 13.8 billion years ago.

The abundance of lithium created during this process contributes to its presence in various natural sources today.

Density of Lithium Allowing it to Float in Water

One intriguing property of lithium is its low density, which allows it to float on water. With a density of approximately 0.53 g/cm, lithium is among the least dense metals.

This property can be observed by placing a piece of lithium metal in water, where it will float on top and exhibit a characteristic bobbing motion. This peculiar behavior showcases the unique physical attributes of this element.

Banning of 7-Up due to Lithium Content and Long-Term Side Effects

In the early 20th century, a popular soda known as 7-Up came under scrutiny due to its lithium content. Originally formulated in 1929, 7-Up included small amounts of lithium citrate, which was believed to provide a mood-enhancing effect.

However, concerns arose about the potential long-term side effects of consuming lithium in a beverage. As a result, the addition of lithium citrate was discontinued, and 7-Up underwent formulation changes, becoming a lemon-lime soda without lithium.

Lithium Price Variation

The price of metallic lithium can vary depending on several factors, including supply and demand dynamics, production costs, and market conditions. Over the years, the price of lithium has experienced fluctuations as the demand for the element has increased, particularly due to the rising popularity of lithium-ion batteries.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the demand for lithium, primarily driven by the growing electric vehicle market and the shift towards renewable energy storage solutions. As a result, the price of lithium has witnessed a notable upward trend.

In 2021, the average price of lithium carbonate surged to approximately $10,000 per metric ton, significantly higher compared to previous years. The price of lithium is also influenced by the geographical location of the lithium reserves, as different countries have varying production capacities and extraction costs.

For instance, countries like Chile and Australia, which have significant lithium reserves and established mining operations, can have a notable impact on the global lithium market.


Lithium, a fascinating element, has several intriguing aspects that go beyond its scientific properties. Its presence as one of the first three elements produced during the Big Bang highlights its historical significance.

Furthermore, its unique density allowing it to float on water showcases its distinct physical attributes. The banning of 7-Up due to its lithium content emphasizes the careful considerations surrounding the consumption of this element.

Lastly, the varying price of metallic lithium reflects the dynamic nature of the market and its increasing importance in the era of electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. These interesting facts contribute to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the multifaceted nature of lithium.

In conclusion, lithium is a versatile element with a rich history and a wide range of applications. From its origins as one of the first elements produced in the Big Bang to its unique property of floating on water, lithium continues to fascinate scientists and industries alike.

The banning of 7-Up due to its lithium content highlights the careful consideration of its consumption, while the fluctuating price of metallic lithium showcases its increasing importance in the electric vehicle and renewable energy sectors. As we continue to explore the potential of lithium, it is crucial to prioritize safe handling and disposal to mitigate potential health hazards.

Overall, lithium’s significance in various fields underscores the need for sustainable mining practices and the continued development of innovative technologies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

  1. Is lithium a naturally occurring element?
  2. Yes, lithium is a naturally occurring element and is one of the first three elements produced in the Big Bang.

  3. Can lithium float in water?
  4. Yes, due to its low density, lithium can float on water.

  5. Why was 7-Up banned?
  6. 7-Up was banned due to the presence of lithium citrate in its original formulation, which raised concerns about potential long-term side effects.

  7. Why is the price of lithium fluctuating?
  8. The price of lithium is influenced by supply and demand dynamics, production costs, and market conditions, with increased demand from the electric vehicle and renewable energy sectors contributing to recent price fluctuations.

  9. What are some key applications of lithium?
  10. Lithium is used in batteries (particularly lithium-ion batteries), manufacturing (improving the properties of metals), medication (lithium salts for managing mental health conditions), glass ceramics production, and air-conditioning refrigerants.

  11. What are the potential health hazards associated with lithium?
  12. Inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, and exposure to lithium can lead to a range of health hazards, including skin burns, central nervous system damage, kidney issues, and gastrointestinal problems. Proper handling and precautions are essential to mitigate these risks.

  13. How should lithium-containing products be disposed of?
  14. Lithium-containing products should be disposed of according to local regulations. Recycling facilities specializing in lithium-ion batteries should be utilized to ensure the safe recovery of lithium and other valuable materials while minimizing environmental impact.

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