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(Gr. lithos, stone) Discovered by Arfvedson in 1817. Lithium is the lightest of all
metals, with a density only about half that of water.
It does not occur free in nature; combined it is found in small units in nearly all
igneous rocks and in the waters of many mineral springs. Lepidolite, spodumeme, petalite,
and amblygonite are the more important minerals containing it.
Lithium is presently being recovered from brines of Searles Lake, in California, and
from those in Nevada. Large deposits of quadramene are found in North Carolina. The metal
is produced electrolytically from the fused chloride. Lithium is silvery in appearance,
much like Na and K, other members of the alkali metal series. It reacts with water, but
not as vigorously as sodium. Lithium imparts a beautiful crimson color to a flame, but
when the metal burns strongly, the flame is a dazzling white.
Since World War II, the production of lithium metal and its compounds has increased
greatly. Because the metal has the highest specific heat of any solid element, it has
found use in heat transfer applications; however, it is corrosive and requires special
handling. The metal has been used as an alloying agent, is of interest in synthesis of
organic compounds, and has nuclear applications. It ranks as a leading contender as a
battery anode material as it has a high electrochemical potential. Lithium is used in
special glasses and ceramics. The glass for the 200-inch telescope at Mt. Palomar contains
lithium as a minor ingredient. Lithium chloride is one of the most lyproscopic materials
known, and it, as well as lithium bromide, is used in air conditioning and industrial
drying systems. Lithium stearate is used as an all-purpose and high-temperature lubricant.
Other lithium compounds are used in dry cells and storage batteries.
The metal is priced at about $300/lb.
Sources: CRC Handbook of Chemistry
and Physics and the American Chemical Society.
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