The industrial application of lithium began in 1923, when it started to be used as an alloy in the bearings of steam locomotives in Germany. During World War II, lithium was used in the production of lithium hydride for the nuclear warheads of the Allies. In addition, the use of lithium stearate in lubricants and greases was discovered. In the 1960’s, the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was the biggest buyer of lithium, which they used for the production of lithium-6 isotope to serve the needs of nuclear technology.
During the past decades, the use of lithium has strongly increased and become more diverse as new purposes and applications have been discovered. Traditionally, lithium has been mainly used in the glass and ceramics industry, in lubricants and greases as well as in the production of aluminium and synthetic rubber.
Since the beginning of the 1990’s, the battery industry has grown from nearly nothing to the present about 25% of all lithium consumption. It is estimated that the use of lithium will grow strongly in the future, due to rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The use of lithium within different industries in 2007 was distributed as follows:
1. Battery industry 24%
2. Lubricants 15%
3. Glass industry 14%
4. Ceramics industry 11%
5. Medical industry 7%
6. Air conditioning 6%
7. Aluminium industry 4%
8. Various 19%
Today, 100% of all mobile phones manufactured and 90% of all laptop computers contain lithium batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly used in other mobile electronics equipment (media players, cameras, navigators etc.) as well. The commercial mass production of large lithium-ion batteries for the automotive industry is in the early stage of development, and the manufacture of professional, wireless electric tools has partly moved to the era of lithium.
In terms of storage of electrical energy, the laws of nature have picked the winner. The Planet Earth is moving towards the Lithium Economy.