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Mineral Monday: Lithium

14/03/2016
Like many minerals Lithium was first discovered in the nineteenth century. Occurring within nearly all igneous rocks Lithium was first isolated in 1821 when William Thomas Brande obtained it by electrolysis of lithium oxide. However, it was not until 1855 that the commercial production and use of Lithium began following the discovery of a new production procedure which involved the electrolysis of lithium chloride.

Lithium found a plethora of uses following its discovery, including as high-temperature greases for aircraft engines, and within lithium ion batteries, however it’s most infamous use throughout the twentieth century was in the production of nuclear fusion weapons.

Where is it produced / mined?

Most of the world’s Lithium production is based in South America (the leading producers being Chile, followed by Argentina). Globally, the majority of Lithium is now produced via extraction from brine- a newer production method which first came to prominence during the mid-1990s. Lithium had previously been extensively mined, however following the discovery of the brine extraction process the majority of Lithium mines closed or shifted their focus to other materials.

Did you know?

• Lithium is believed to be one of only three elements- the others are hydrogen and helium- produced in significant quantities by the Big Bang at the beginning of the Universe.
• Lithium ion batteries have revolutionised electronic consumer goods such as laptops and mobile phones. For a given battery weight, lithium ion batteries deliver more energy than batteries based on other metals.
• Lithium has been used to decrease the melting temperature of glass and to make it stronger and lighter.
• Lithium is extremely corrosive and requires special handling. Skin contact is a hazard because of the caustic hydroxide that is produced when Lithium is in contact with moisture.

In next week’s Mineral Monday we will be taking a look at a very different mineral- one which is renowned for its value and beauty…

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