The lithium is the chemical element symbol Li, who heads the IA group of periodic table. This group is the family of alkali metals, which are characterized by having only one electron in the last shell of their atoms. When combined with water , they create products called hydroxides .Metallic lithium is a soft, silvery-white solid with a very low density, being the lightest metal known . Its most important properties are:

  • Atomic number: 3
  • Atomic weight: 6.941 g / mol
  • Density: 0.531 g / mL
  • Melting point: 186 ° C
  • Boiling point: 1136 ° C

Lithium is an element with applications in the fields of electronics, industry and pharmaceuticals . Naturally, it is in minerals such as petalite or castorita LiAlSi 4 O 10 , the spodumene LiAlSi 2 O 6 and amblygonite LiAlPO 4 F.

Lithium is used to:

  • Glass manufacturing processes
  • Ceramic manufacturing processes
  • Enamel creation processes
  • Produce catalysts
  • Solder, as an additive and flux
  • Fast-setting cement, as an additive
  • Create lithium batteries
  • Treat manic-depressive disorder

Lithium batteries

Lithium batteries originated from Stanley Whittingham. The English chemist had the idea of ​​using titanium sulfide and metallic lithium as electrodes in an electrochemical cell or battery. This battery was not further developed for two reasons: Titanium sulfide was very expensive then, and when lithium did its job, hydrogen sulfide , a foul-smelling gas , was released .

Another drawback in the beginning was that, when metallic lithium was used and it came into contact with air and humidity, it reacted immediately, burning. It was proposed as a solution to use lithium compounds . After numerous proposals, lithium cobalt oxide LiCoO 2 was used as a positive electrode (anode), accompanied by a negative electrode (cathode) of metallic lithium .

Due to the stability of lithium cobalt oxide LiCoO 2 , lithium batteries have become commercially available. Thus, during the electrochemical process, lithium ions can be released without inconvenience. This achievement was achieved at Stanford University in the late 1970s, by the research group led by Ned A. Goodshall.

Subsequently, this same group explored the applications of the other lithium and transition metal oxides, such as LiMn 2 O 4 , Li 2 MnO 3 , LiMnO 2 , LiFeO 2 , LiFe 5 O 8 , LiFe 5 O 4 , and they were successful, patenting these electrochemical cells or batteries, which are still in use.

How is lithium obtained for industrial use?

Lithium, in the form of a chemical compound, can be obtained depending on the raw material. There are two methods:

  • Obtain Lithium Carbonate Li 2 CO 3 from spodumene
  • Obtain Lithium Chloride LiCl from brine

To obtain lithium carbonate Li 2 CO 3 from spodumene , a process is required in the following sequence:

  • The rock is mined
  • The rock is crushed
  • The rock is subjected to grinding
  • The resulting powder is calcined
  • The calcined is leaching with sulfuric acid H 2 SO 4
  • The solution obtained is filtered. Lithium sulfate brine Li 2 SO 4 is obtained
  • The Li 2 SO 4 brine is reacted with calcium hydroxide Ca (OH) 2 and sodium carbonate Na 2 CO 3
  • The mixture is filtered, separating calcium carbonate CaCO 3 and other products or impurities
  • Other species are separated by ion exchange
  • Lithium carbonate is obtained with a minimum of 99% purity, or technical grade
  • If you purify more, you will have battery grade lithium carbonate

To obtain lithium chloride LiCl from brine , the process has the following steps:

  • The brine is extracted
  • The brine evaporates
  • The most concentrated brine is filtered
  • Remaining impurities are removed
  • Lithium chloride LiCl is concentrated
  • If subjected to electrolysis, metallic lithium will be obtained

The main lithium producers in the world are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, Portugal, Zimbabwe.

Lithium is used to treat depressive and bipolar disorders

Lithium is used as an addition to specialized drugs for the treatment of manic-depressive and bipolar disorder , which currently has a high incidence in adults. Lithium is the active element in drugs called mood regulators or stabilizers , and its action is so important that it is considered an antisuicidal agent .

People with psychiatric problems such as manic-depressive disorder frequently experience emotional turbulence . Since drugs that treat them have been called “mood stabilizers”, these emotional signs have been interpreted as abnormal or pathological mood instability .

The latter has justified the prescription of those drugs. Research conducted on the effects of the stabilizers of mood are based primarily on discovering whether or not to reduce manic signs and if prevent relapse in patients diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder classic, also called bipolar type I .

Lithium has been shown to suppress aggressive mood swings, without affecting normal swings, characteristics also of healthy people. However, lithium is an alkali metal that is highly toxic to the nervous system, the intestine and the kidneys , even in small doses.

The therapeutic effects of lithium work in conjunction with the symptoms of toxicity. Before signs of complete toxicity appear, lithium inhibits nerve conduction, producing  sedation and decreased mental function Lithium side effects

Lithium-based mood-regulating drugs should be administered as directed by the psychiatrist in charge of the case. In a consumption adhering to medical instructions, the symptoms that may occur are:

  • Reduced ability to learn new information
  • Higher reaction time latency (low reflections)
  • Memory impairment
  • Loss of interest
  • Decreased spontaneous activity

In case of inadequate consumption of lithium, toxicity may occur , the symptoms of which are:

  • Temblor
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Incontinence
  • Drowsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Muscle spasms
  • Ataxia
  • Disartria
  • Seizures (in cases of severe toxicity)
  • Coma (in cases of severe toxicity)
  • Death (in cases of severe toxicity)

Due to the toxicity of lithium, the doses required to achieve a useful sedative effect are risky, close to those that cause dangerous toxicity.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical opinion. Consult a doctor.

Samantha Robson
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Dr. Samantha Robson ( CRN: 0510146-5) is a nutritionist and website content reviewer related to her area of ​​expertise. With a postgraduate degree in Nutrition from The University of Arizona, she is a specialist in Sports Nutrition from Oxford University and is also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

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