Many batteries use lithium as part of their chemistry. You can find it in industrial, consumer, coin and rechargeable cells. But where does Lithium come from? And why is it so popular?
We use lithium batteries every day. They are in smartphones, laptops, household appliances, car keys and more and more cars. Not to mention the numerous data loggers, sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) applications found in industry and the cities we live in.
Lithium metal is popular in battery technologies because it has a high energy density. Meaning it can output more energy in the same size cell compared with any other chemistry, or the same energy in a smaller size (and weight). It is why it is so popular when portability is important.
Demand for Lithium batteries is due to grow 10 fold between 2018 and 2030. Bloomberg forecast that Lithium-Ion battery production will use 700,000 tons of Lithium by 2025. The equivalent of 3,111 statues of liberty or almost 40,000 Double-Decker Buses.
The increase in demand is mainly down to the push in electric vehicles, which use Lithium Ion batteries as their power source. It is not the only reason for the increase though, other lithium technology is on the rise as well. Lithium Thionyl Chloride chemistry is leading the way in powering the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ through the Internet of Things (IoT).
A new NASA-funded study suggests that Lithium comes from bright stellar explosions called classical novae. Around 50 of these occur a year in our galaxy, when a white dwarf orbits a larger star. Gas falls from the star onto the white dwarf until there is a high enough concentration to cause an explosion. The classical novae distributes lithium and other elements throughout our galaxy, delivering to our planet the lithium used in our electronics batteries.
Lithium Metal is highly reactive and never found in its pure form in nature. instead, it usually combines with aluminium, silicon and oxygen.
The lithium used in batteries comes from saltwater lakes. The salt water naturally contains lithium chloride. The water is channelled into shallow ponds and left to evaporate in the sun, over a period of a year or more. Various salts are left behind after the evaporation process, as well as lithium. The addition of Lime removes magnesium salt, leaving a more concentrated amount of lithium chloride. Sodium carbonate is then added to produce Lithium in a usable form. This is then transported around the globe to battery manufacturers where it is combined with other chemistry to create the batteries that power our world.
So next time you hold your mobile phone, tablet or any lithium battery. Just think of all the work, time and distance, not only that people have spent, but the universe itself to create the Lithium.