Lithium is the lightest of all metals. Discovered in 1817, this soft, silvery-white metal reacts readily with water and air. It cannot exist in nature in its pure form. Lithium is refined from minerals and ores that contain lithium compounds that do not react readily with any of the normal conditions of nature. One of these minerals is spodumene [LiAl(Si2O6)].

Lithium metal is produced on a commercial scale by the electrolysis of molten lithium chloride (LiCl). Lithium metal must be kept in a dry, oxygen-free environment throughout the production process. This requirement adds significantly to the cost of this metal. Lithium metal must be packed, shipped, and stored in oxygen- and water-free environment. This is usually accomplished by packing the metal in a container of oil, kerosene, or other nonreactive liquid. Pictured here is lithium immersed in inert oil.

Some uses of lithium metal include:

Many compounds of lithium have valuable applications.

BCIT Chemistry Resource Center