Lithium – The New Precious Mineral of the Tech-world

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Lithium derives its name from the Greek word “lithos” meaning stone, as it is obtained in the form of lithium crystals in nature. Lithium salts are found in the form of very large, beautiful rocks. Paradoxically, even though it is found in the form of hard rocks, it is one of the lightest elements in use at present, besides Hydrogen, which is found in almost all kinds of things. Lithium has several uses in several fields. For example, in the field of psychiatry, it is used for the treatment of manic depressive disorders. Among all forms of Lithium, lithium carbonate is the one form which is majorly used.

Lithium in our bodies: Lithium gets easily absorbed in our bodies and we all contain about 2-3 milligrams of Lithium in our bodies. It is not toxic to our bodies in these doses. However, it has been noticed that people who suffer from mania usually absorb Lithium better in their bodies.

Uses of Lithium: Lithium is one of the only elements which has a song named after it by Nirvana. It has a history of calming people who have mood disorders. However, not only does it affect one’s body, but also is used in many Lithium charged batteries. The uses of Lithium are quite widespread. As a compound too, it has many commercial and fundamental industrial uses. As per a 2009 survey, some fields where Lithium is found to be useful are:

  • Batteries (20%)
  • Pharmaceuticals (2%)
  • Glasses and ceramics (37%)
  • Aluminium (7%)
  • Thermoplastics (3%)
  • Air treatment (5%)
  • Casting (5%)
  • Other (10%)
  • Greases (11%)

Why is Lithium such a significant element today?

For decades, the usage of Lithium was only restricted to the production of ceramics, aluminium and thermoplastics. However, there has been a significant rise in the number of batteries working with Lithium as a compound since the early 2000s. This is why lithium charged batteries have been gaining huge market share since the last decade, with lithium-polymer and lithium-ion batteries being said to be the massive gainers as this is where the major potential lies.

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Lithium is considered to be the ideal element for batteries because of it has the highest electric output per unit weight of any other battery metal. This is the reason why battery makers have shifted to using Lithium. Lithium Carbonate is the main focus of working among researchers who have been trying to incorporate batteries for the electric vehicles.

If Lithium is fit for use, it might change the shape of the vehicles as we know it today. Electric vehicles, which do not need petrol or diesel to run, might save a lot of Earth’s fuel resources. No wonder the Governments and the corporations around the world have been scrambling to get a hold of this element. The demand for Lithium shot up strikingly in 2012 and ever since has been growing steadily. It is safe to say that we might see Lithium replacing all other fuels and possibly end the war over the conventional fuels around the world.

How Lithium-ion Batteries were perfected for usage in electric vehicles?

Who: QinetiQ, a British defense technology company had been testing Lithium for powering the electric vehicles and hybrids. There is a new type of Lithium-ion battery which will soon charge all electric vehicles. But that’s not all; these Lithium-ion batteries could be cheaper and much more lasting in effect in future.

Lithium-ion and iron-sulfide both come together to form this kind of a powerful battery. In fact, this battery would cost half of what the batteries cost nowadays, and once it comes into effect, this battery would actually have a lot of advantages over our existing batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries have been have been found to work better than the nickel metal hydride cells. Also, these batteries can store about twice more energy than the batteries used earlier. But even then, researchers have had a hard time to apply this theory into the real world as there were many technological challenges which had to be overcome to use lithium-ion batteries in the electrical vehicles.

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Why: One of the things to understand here is that the electrical vehicles work differently than other electrical gadgets. The vehicle battery needs to be able to hold the charge for longer periods of time. This is why you need batteries with larger densities so that the time frame between the re-charging of these batteries can be extended. In fact, the hybrid vehicles require more density in their batteries, which the standard lithium-ion batteries are not capable of providing.

In case of cell phones it is not much of a problem, but as Jeff Dahn, the professor of physics and chemistry at University of Dalhousie at Halifax, Canada states, “In large cells, it’s hard to remain stable under abuse conditions”. Such conditions could be anything as simple as overcharging, which might cause the batteries to even explode.

How: Thanks to QinetiQ, there is a solution to this problem now. The researchers of QinetiQ have come to the conclusion that by using lithium-ion iron sulfide as a cathode (replacing the commonly used lithium cobalt Oxide) you can magnificently increase the density of the batteries and make them work perfectly for the electric cars.

Lithium charged electric vehicles are changing the course of History

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As of now, there have been over a dozen electric vehicles released in the market. This might just be the start. Experts are of the belief that electric vehicles will soon replace the petroleum vehicles as we know it.

Recently Mercedes has announced that it will be releasing its own hybrid model with 10 different types of plug-ins sometime within the next few years. Even though Lithium-ion batteries promised us a good run, as mentioned earlier, it was falling short of providing us the expected range.

However, with recent inputs from Tesla, it is now being believed that the power of lithium-ion batteries will be an average of 400 watt-hours per gram in the future. With so much consumption of Lithium, one wonders, what implications it will have on the existing resources of Lithium in our surroundings.

Availability of Lithium in Nature

Around 70% of all the Lithium in the world comes from brines (salt lakes). The rest is derived from hardened rocks. Studies are ongoing to derive the same from the oceans. At present China is the largest consumer of Lithium as the Chinese have grasped that Lithium-ion batteries are going to be the future. An unbridled stock of the element is thus significant for them.

The known suppliers of Lithium around the world are China, Bolivia, Australia, Chile and Argentina. The total identified resources are about 5.5 million tons in the Unites States alone. Apart from that, Brazil has about 180,000 tons of Lithium. Argentina, China and Russia have 6.5, 5.4 and 1.7 million tons of Lithium resource respectively. Canada, Russia and Congo have 1 million tons of the element each, and these are just the identified sources as of yet.

The planet as of now seems abundant of Lithium. There have been concerns about the world falling short of natural resources should electrical vehicles or EVs ever replace the petrol & diesel run cars. However, there is no other material which provides as much efficient energy as Lithium, nor does any other material provide the same performance as the Lithium-ion batteries do. Rather than worrying about the shortage of Lithium, the shortage of anode, graphite and other material should be thought about.

Shortage of Lithium in our environment could increase the price of Lithium, but as of yet, there is no such problem. This is one of the reasons why Lithium-ion batteries are so cheaply available. It must also be noted that in this case, recycling could actually be more expensive than mining for fresh Lithium.

Place share your thoughts on the topic. Do you think its time we finally move to Electric vehicles and let Lithium batteries take over?


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