Lithium is a silvery-white metal that resembles aluminium or platinum. On the periodic table, it belongs to Group 1 (Ia) which holds the other alkali metals hydrogen (H), sodium (Na), rubidium (Rb) potassium (K), cesium (Cs), and francium (Fr). Lithium has the symbol Li and atomic number 3. It is known as a soft substance with the lowest density of all metals (0.534 g/cm3).
In the 1790s, Jozé Bonifácio de Andralda e Silva from Brazil discovered petalite on Utö, a Swedish island. This was the first lithium mineral to be found but it wasn't until 1817 that lithium was identified as a new metal in its own right.
Johan August Arfvedson of Stockholm analysed the mineral when he realized it contained an unknown metal that was a new alkali and a version of sodium. The metal's name is derived from the Greek word "lithos" meaning stone.
From early on, lithium was used in the medical world as a treatment for physical and psychiatric conditions. In the mid-1800's it was unsuccessfully used to remedy gout and uric acid calculi. In the late 1800s, it was used to treat mania with such positive results that lithium is still used in psychiatry today.
Lithium has a silvery veneer and is a soft and malleable metal. It has the lowest density of all metals at 0.534 g/cm3. It has a potent reaction to water and with air, it rapidly oxidizes after being cut. Once lithium is cut and exposed, it develops a black oxide layer. Lithium is the only metal that reacts at room temperature with nitrogen. When burning, lithium has a crimson flame that turns white when the fire turns more vigorous. It has a melting point of 180.50°C (356.90°F) and a boiling point of 1342°C (2448°F).
Lithium is toxic and ingestion is often done under close medical supervision. Lithium carbonate is prescribed for manic depression (also known as bipolar disorder) and sometimes for lesser grades of depression. However, its effects on the brain remain understudied.
Pregnant women are advised to avoid this substance as it might lead to birth defects. Lithium has a host of side effects when consumed by a sensitive individual or in too large quantities. Symptoms include nausea, tremors, fatigue, dizziness, heart rhythm and thyroid issues, muscle weakness, rashes and confusion.
Pure lithium does not occur naturally. The metal is found in trace amounts in many rocks and mineral water but is more abundant in minerals such as petalite, spodumene, lepidolite, and amblygonite.
Besides being used extensively in the medical and psychiatric fields, lithium also offers vast applications in other areas. The metal plays an essential role in the creation of lithium-ion batteries, especially for laptops, mobile phones, electric vehicles, and pacemakers. Lithium is also used to create alloys with magnesium and aluminium which are then deployed in armour plating, aircraft and trains.
Lithium is also used in glass products, air conditioning, industrial drying systems, and lubricants for high-temperature components. Lithium hydride, in particular, plays a role in storing hydrogen as fuel.
Two of the world's major lithium producers are Australia and Chile. China and Argentina also produce the metal to a lesser degree.
In Australia, lithium comes from mining ores of other minerals. Chile and Argentina extract lithium from the brine of underwater lakes. The water is brought to the surface and allowed to evaporate. The remaining saline solution is processed to extract the lithium, usually by electrolysis.
Lithium mining produced an estimated 82,000 metric tons of lithium in 2020 and the global reserves in 2021 is at an estimated 21 million tonnes.
Lithium's place is firmly established on the metal market. The commodity remains extremely valuable due to its essential roles in the fields of medicine, technology, and to investors looking to add a sought-after commodity to their portfolio.
Lithium can rarely be obtained by investors in its physical form but the metal can be traded effectively in other ways. One can buy shares in companies that are involved with lithium mining and production. Lithium ETFs are popular as well. Lithium is traded as both Lithium Hydroxide and Lithium Carbonate. DailyMetalPrice.com tracks the Lithium carbonate price.
The pricing of lithium is affected by several factors. One of the main forecasts that investors rely on to predict the market price is the current global demand and supply chain. In particular, the price is driven by the demand for two forms of the metal - lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. Another factor that affects lithium prices is the rarity of the metal. During the times when supplies run low, prices often spike.
The London Metal Exchange (LME) works closely with the lithium industry to provide more information, forecasts, charts, and lithium prices to investors. Market prices for lithium have fluctuated dramatically over the past few years as investors have speculated over the supply and demand for lithium in the growing market for electric vehicle batteries.
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