Periodic Table > Lithium
 

Glossary


Allotropes
Some elements exist in several different structural forms, called allotropes. Each allotrope has different physical properties.


For more information on the Visual Elements image see the Uses and properties section below.

 

Glossary


Group
A vertical column in the periodic table. Members of a group typically have similar properties and electron configurations in their outer shell.


Period
A horizontal row in the periodic table. The atomic number of each element increases by one, reading from left to right.


Block
Elements are organised into blocks by the orbital type in which the outer electrons are found. These blocks are named for the characteristic spectra they produce: sharp (s), principal (p), diffuse (d), and fundamental (f).


Atomic number
The number of protons in an atom.


Electron configuration
The arrangements of electrons above the last (closed shell) noble gas.


Melting point
The temperature at which the solid–liquid phase change occurs.


Boiling point
The temperature at which the liquid–gas phase change occurs.


Sublimation
The transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase without passing through a liquid phase.


Density (g cm−3)
Density is the mass of a substance that would fill 1 cm3 at room temperature.


Relative atomic mass
The mass of an atom relative to that of carbon-12. This is approximately the sum of the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Where more than one isotope exists, the value given is the abundance weighted average.


Isotopes
Atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons.


CAS number
The Chemical Abstracts Service registry number is a unique identifier of a particular chemical, designed to prevent confusion arising from different languages and naming systems.


Fact box

 
Group Melting point 180.50°C, 356.90°F, 453.65 K 
Period Boiling point 1342°C, 2448°F, 1615 K 
Block Density (g cm−3) 0.534 
Atomic number Relative atomic mass 6.94  
State at 20°C Solid  Key isotopes 7Li 
Electron configuration [He] 2s1  CAS number 7439-93-2 
ChemSpider ID 2293625 ChemSpider is a free chemical structure database
 

Glossary


Image explanation

Murray Robertson is the artist behind the images which make up Visual Elements. This is where the artist explains his interpretation of the element and the science behind the picture.


Appearance

The description of the element in its natural form.


Biological role

The role of the element in humans, animals and plants.


Natural abundance

Where the element is most commonly found in nature, and how it is sourced commercially.

Uses and properties

 
Image explanation
Lithium was discovered from a mineral, while other common alkali metals were discovered from plant material. This is thought to explain the origin of the element’s name; from ‘lithos’ (Greek for ‘stone’). The image is based on an alchemical symbol for stone.
Appearance
A soft, silvery metal. It has the lowest density of all metals. It reacts vigorously with water.
Uses
The most important use of lithium is in rechargeable batteries for mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and electric vehicles. Lithium is also used in some non-rechargeable batteries for things like heart pacemakers, toys and clocks.

Lithium metal is made into alloys with aluminium and magnesium, improving their strength and making them lighter. A magnesium-lithium alloy is used for armour plating. Aluminium-lithium alloys are used in aircraft, bicycle frames and high-speed trains.

Lithium oxide is used in special glasses and glass ceramics. Lithium chloride is one of the most hygroscopic materials known, and is used in air conditioning and industrial drying systems (as is lithium bromide). Lithium stearate is used as an all-purpose and high-temperature lubricant. Lithium carbonate is used in drugs to treat manic depression, although its action on the brain is still not fully understood. Lithium hydride is used as a means of storing hydrogen for use as a fuel.
Biological role
Lithium has no known biological role. It is toxic, except in very small doses.
Natural abundance
Lithium does not occur as the metal in nature, but is found combined in small amounts in nearly all igneous rocks and in the waters of many mineral springs. Spodumene, petalite, lepidolite, and amblygonite are the more important minerals containing lithium.

Most lithium is currently produced in Chile, from brines that yield lithium carbonate when treated with sodium carbonate. The metal is produced by the electrolysis of molten lithium chloride and potassium chloride.
 
Glossary

Atomic radius, non-bonded
Half of the distance between two unbonded atoms of the same element when the electrostatic forces are balanced. These values were determined using several different methods.


Covalent radius
Half of the distance between two atoms within a single covalent bond. Values are given for typical oxidation number and coordination.


Electron affinity
The energy released when an electron is added to the neutral atom and a negative ion is formed.


Electronegativity (Pauling scale)
The tendency of an atom to attract electrons towards itself, expressed on a relative scale.


First ionisation energy
The minimum energy required to remove an electron from a neutral atom in its ground state.

Atomic data

 
Atomic radius, non-bonded (Å) 1.82 Covalent radius (Å) 1.30
Electron affinity (kJ mol−1) 59.633 Electronegativity
(Pauling scale)
0.98
Ionisation energies
(kJ mol−1)
 
1st
520.222
2nd
7298.15
3rd
11815.044
4th
-
5th
-
6th
-
7th
-
8th
-
 

Glossary

Data for this section been provided by the British Geological Survey.


Relative supply risk

An integrated supply risk index from 1 (very low risk) to 10 (very high risk). This is calculated by combining the scores for crustal abundance, reserve distribution, production concentration, substitutability, recycling rate and political stability scores.


Crustal abundance (ppm)

The number of atoms of the element per 1 million atoms of the Earth’s crust.


Recycling rate

The percentage of a commodity which is recycled. A higher recycling rate may reduce risk to supply.


Substitutability

The availability of suitable substitutes for a given commodity.
High = substitution not possible or very difficult.
Medium = substitution is possible but there may be an economic and/or performance impact
Low = substitution is possible with little or no economic and/or performance impact


Production concentration

The percentage of an element produced in the top producing country. The higher the value, the larger risk there is to supply.


Reserve distribution

The percentage of the world reserves located in the country with the largest reserves. The higher the value, the larger risk there is to supply.


Political stability of top producer

A percentile rank for the political stability of the top producing country, derived from World Bank governance indicators.


Political stability of top reserve holder

A percentile rank for the political stability of the country with the largest reserves, derived from World Bank governance indicators.


Supply risk

 
Relative supply risk 6.7
Crustal abundance (ppm) 16
Recycling rate (%) <10
Substitutability High
Production concentration (%) 62
Reserve distribution (%) 58
Top 3 producers
  • 1) Australia
  • 2) Chile
  • 3) China
Top 3 reserve holders
  • 1) Chile
  • 2) China
  • 3) Australia
Political stability of top producer 74.5
Political stability of top reserve holder 67.5
 

Glossary


Common oxidation states

The oxidation state of an atom is a measure of the degree of oxidation of an atom. It is defined as being the charge that an atom would have if all bonds were ionic. Uncombined elements have an oxidation state of 0. The sum of the oxidation states within a compound or ion must equal the overall charge.


Isotopes

Atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons.


Key for isotopes


Half life
  y years
  d days
  h hours
  m minutes
  s seconds
Mode of decay
  α alpha particle emission
  β negative beta (electron) emission
  β+ positron emission
  EC orbital electron capture
  sf spontaneous fission
  ββ double beta emission
  ECEC double orbital electron capture

Oxidation states and isotopes

 
Common oxidation states 1
Isotopes Isotope Atomic mass Natural abundance (%) Half life Mode of decay
  6Li 6.015 7.59
  7Li 7.016 92.41
 

Glossary


Specific heat capacity (J kg−1 K−1)

Specific heat capacity is the amount of energy needed to change the temperature of a kilogram of a substance by 1 K.


Young's modulus

A measure of the stiffness of a substance. It provides a measure of how difficult it is to extend a material, with a value given by the ratio of tensile strength to tensile strain.


Shear modulus

A measure of how difficult it is to deform a material. It is given by the ratio of the shear stress to the shear strain.


Bulk modulus

A measure of how difficult it is to compress a substance. It is given by the ratio of the pressure on a body to the fractional decrease in volume.


Vapour pressure

A measure of the propensity of a substance to evaporate. It is defined as the equilibrium pressure exerted by the gas produced above a substance in a closed system.

Pressure and temperature data – advanced

 
Specific heat capacity
(J kg−1 K−1)
3582 Young's modulus (GPa) Unknown
Shear modulus (GPa) Unknown Bulk modulus (GPa) 11.1
Vapour pressure  
Temperature (K)
400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000 2200 2400
Pressure (Pa)
7.90
x 10-11
0.000489 1.08 109 - - - - - - -
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History

The first lithium mineral petalite, LiAlSi4O10, was discovered on the Swedish island of Utö by the Brazilian, Jozé Bonifácio de Andralda e Silva in the 1790s. It was observed to give an intense crimson flame when thrown onto a fire. In 1817, Johan August Arfvedson of Stockholm analysed it and deduced it contained a previously unknown metal, which he called lithium. He realised this was a new alkali metal and a lighter version of sodium. However, unlike sodium he was not able to separate it by electrolysis. In 1821 William Brande obtained a tiny amount this way but not enough on which to make measurements. It was not until 1855 that the German chemist Robert Bunsen and the British chemist Augustus Matthiessen obtained it in bulk by the electrolysis of molten lithium chloride.
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Podcasts

Listen to Lithium Podcast
Transcript :

Chemistry in its element: lithium


(Promo)

You're listening to Chemistry in its element brought to you by Chemistry World, the magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

(End promo)

Chris Smith

Hello, this week to the element that tops group one and gives us lighter aircraft and armoured plating. It also keeps grease running at arctic temperatures, powers pacemakers and lies at the heart of the hydrogen bomb.

Matt Wilkinson

Lithium is rare in the Universe, although it was one of the three elements, along with hydrogen and helium, to be created in the Big Bang. The element was discovered on Earth in 1817 by Johan August Arfvedson (1792-1841) in Stockholm when he investigated petalite, one of the first lithium minerals to be discovered. (It was observed to give an intense crimson flame when sprinkled on to a fire.) He deduced that petalite contained an unknown metal, which he called lithium from the Greek word for a stone, lithos, although he never actually produced any. He reasoned that it was a new alkali metal and lighter than sodium. However, unlike sodium, which Humphry Davy had isolated in 1807 by the electrolysis of sodium hydroxide, Arfvedson was unable to produced lithium by the same method. A sample of lithium metal was finally extracted in 1855 and then by the electrolysis of molten lithium chloride.

Once lithium's discovery had been announced others soon found it to be present in all kinds of things such as grapes, seaweed, tobacco, vegetables, milk and blood.

Another lithium ore is spodumene, which like petalite is a lithium aluminium silicate, and there is a large deposit of this ore in South Dakota. World production of lithium compounds is around 40 000 tonnes a year and reserves are estimated to be around 7 million tonnes. Industrial production of the metal itself is reported to be about 7500 tonnes a year, and this is produced by the electrolysis of molten lithium chloride and potassium chloride in steel cells at temperatures of 450oC.

Lithium is moderately toxic as discovered in the 1940s when patients were given lithium chloride as a salt substitute. However, in small doses it is prescribed as a treatment for manic depression (now called bipolar disorder). Its calming effect on the brain was first noted in 1949, by an Australian doctor, John Cade, of the Victoria Department of Mental Hygiene. He had injected guinea pigs with a 0.5% solution of lithium carbonate, and to his surprise these normally highly-strung animals became docile, and indeed were so calm that they would sit in the same position for several hours. Cade then gave his most mentally disturbed patient an injection of the same solution. The man responded so well that within days he was transferred to a normal hospital ward and was soon back at work. Other patients responded similarly and lithium therapy is now used all around the world to treat this mental condition. How it works is still not known for certain, but it appears to prevent overproduction of a chemical messenger in the brain.

Lithium is used commercially in various ways. Lithium oxide goes into glass and glass ceramics. Lithium metal goes into alloys with magnesium and aluminium, and it improves their strength while making them lighter. Magnesium-lithium alloy is used in protective armour plating and aluminium-lithium reduces the weight of aircraft thereby saving fuel. Lithium stearate, made by reacting stearic acid with lithium hydroxide, is an all-purpose high-temperature grease and most greases contain it. It will even work well at temperatures as low as -60oC and has been used for vehicles in the Antarctic.

Lithium batteries, which operate at 3-volts or more, are used in devices where compactness and lightness are all-important. They are implanted to supply the electrical energy for heart pacemakers. They function with lithium as the anode, iodine as the solid electrolyte, and manganese oxide as the cathode - and they have a lifespan of ten years. This longevity has been extended to lithium batteries of the more common 1.5-volts variety (in which the cathode is iron disulfide) that are in everyday gadgets such as clocks, and lithium is now beginning to be used for rechargeable batteries

Lithium is a soft, silvery-white, metal that heads group 1, the alkali metals group, of the periodic table of the elements. It reacts vigorously with water. Storing it is a problem. It cannot be kept under oil, as sodium can, because it is less dense and floats. So it is stored by being coated with petroleum jelly. Somewhat surprisingly it does not react with oxygen unless heated to 100oC, but it will react with nitrogen from the atmosphere to form a red-brown compound lithium nitride, Li3N.

The hydrogen of hydrogen bombs is actually the compound lithium hydride, in which the lithium is the lithium-6 isotope and the hydrogen is the hydrogen-2 isotope (deuterium). This compound is capable of releasing massive amounts of energy from the neutrons released by the atomic bomb at its core. These are absorbed by the nuclei of lithium-6 which immediately disintegrates to form helium and hydrogen-3 which then go on to form other elements and as they do the bomb explodes with the force of millions of tonnes of TNT.

Chris Smith

Matt Wilkinson on the extraordinary virtues of element number 3, Lithium. Next time to one of the universe's rarer chemicals and horribly toxic though it is, without it we'd be the proverbial particle short of a nucleus.

Richard Van Noorden

James Chadwick in 1932 discovered the neutron by bombarding a Beryllium sample with the alpha rays eminating from radium . He observed that the beryllium emitted a new kind of sub-atomic particle which had mass but no charge, the neutron and the combination of radium and beryllium is still used to make neutrons for research purposes, although a million alpha-particles only manage to produce 30 neutrons.

Chris Smith

So that goes to show that sometimes a lot can only go a little way. Richard Van Noorden will be here with the story of Beryllium on next week's Chemistry in its Element, I hope you can join us. I'm Chris Smith, thank you for listening and goodbye.

(Promo)

Chemistry in its element is brought to you by the Royal Society of Chemistry and produced by thenakedscientists.com. There's more information and other episodes of Chemistry in its element on our website at chemistryworld.org/elements.

(End promo)
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Resources

Description :
A series of short, fun videos exploring the chemistry of the alkali metals, taken from a lecture by Dr. Peter Wothers at the University of Cambridge.
Description :
A series of short, fun videos exploring the chemistry of the alkali metals, taken from a lecture by Dr. Peter Wothers at the University of Cambridge.
Description :
Many elements react with oxygen on heating. These reactions and the properties of their products illustrate the periodic nature of the elements.
Description :
A teaching resource on the group 1 flame tests, supported by video clips based around the Royal Institution 2012 Christmas Lectures®
Description :
Many elements react with chlorine on heating. The reactions and the properties of the products illustrate the periodic nature of the elements. The reactions require less energy input to initiate than ...
Description :
This demonstration experiment can be used to show the flame colours given by alkali metal, alkaline earth metal, and other metal salts.
 

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References

 
Visual Elements images and videos
© Murray Robertson 2011.

 

Data

W. M. Haynes, ed., CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, CRC Press/Taylor and Francis, Boca Raton, FL, 95th Edition, Internet Version 2015, accessed December 2014.
Tables of Physical & Chemical Constants, Kaye & Laby Online, 16th edition, 1995. Version 1.0 (2005), accessed December 2014.
J. S. Coursey, D. J. Schwab, J.J. Tsai, and R. A. Dragoset, Atomic Weights and Isotopic Compositions(version 3.0), 2010, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, accessed December 2014.
T. L. Cottrell, The Strengths of Chemical Bonds, Butterworth, London, 1954.

 

Uses and properties

John Emsley, Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, Oxford University Press, New York, 2nd Edition, 2011.
Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility - Office of Science Education, It’s Elemental - The Periodic Table of Elements, accessed December 2014.
Periodic Table of Videos, accessed December 2014.

 

Supply risk data

Derived in part from material provided by the British Geological Survey © NERC.

 

History text

© John Emsley 2012.

 

Podcasts

Produced by The Naked Scientists.

 

Periodic Table of Videos

Created by video journalist Brady Haran working with chemists at The University of Nottingham.