In today’s market, lithium-ion batteries power everything from hybrid autos to laptops, cell phones and digital cameras. But just what is lithium and where does it come from?
Will it replace oil as the next “golden mineral asset”?
Listed as the third element on the periodic table, lithium has had many uses, most notably as a mood-altering drug for the treatment of mental disorders.
In manufacturing, it is used in the production of grease and glass. A crude form of lithium was used in production of the first hydrogen bomb.
Found in variable quantities in many countries, its mining is a growing industry in the South American countries of both Chile and Argentina.
Salar de Atacama, a dry lakebed700 miles north of Chile’s capital, Santiago, is one of the driest locations on earth. It is dry on the surface, but about 130 feet below the lakebed lies a brine-laden aquifer. It produces a greasy yellow substance from which lithium is extracted. This lakebed contains about 27 percent of the earth’s known supply of lithium.
The boom in lithium demand began in 1991 when Sony began producing its lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.
Hybrid and all-electric vehicles are now a market for larger versions of these batteries, which were first used to power small electronic devices.
The lithium carbonate salt is refined and used to create either lithium cobalt phosphateorlithiummanganese oxide, which act as an electrolyte in the batteries. Lithium ions travel between the battery’s anode and cathode in the production of electricity.