Lithium, or lithium oxide to be precise, was discovered by the Swedish chemist Johan August Arfwedson in 1817 when he isolated it in the mineral petalite found on the island of Utö in Sweden. The actual metallic lithium was not produced until in 1855. However, lithium had no economic significance until in the 1920’s when the industrial production of lithium began.
Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that oxidizes easily. It is highly reactive with water and moist air, forming hydrogen and lithium hydroxide. Lithium is an alkali metal and belongs to the IA group of the periodic table. It is the lightest metal and it floats in water; the specific gravity of lithium is 0.534 kg/dm³. The atomic weight of lithium is 6,941, melting point 180.5°C and boiling point 1347°C.
The chemical symbol of lithium is Li, and its atomic number is 3. Metallic lithium is produced by electrolysis of a molten salt mixture (LiCl/KCl) in a temperature of approximately 400°C. The cathode is made of steel, while the anode is made of carbon. The metallic lithium produced in the process coalesces at the surface of the molten salt, from where it can be removed.
However, metallic lithium does not have many uses, which is why the global trade of lithium mainly concerns lithium carbonate (Li2CO3), and all lithium consumption is cited in tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE). The industry produces more than 80 different kinds of lithium chemicals, and lithium compounds are used for a huge variety of purposes.