A soft, silver-white metal, lithium is part of the alkali metal group. It is highly reactive and flammable. Due to its high reactivity, it hardly occurs in the free state in nature and is always found in the form of compounds. After the Second World War, lithium production experienced a boost due to technological advances and the need to produce nuclear fusion weapons. To commercially produce lithium, salts are extracted from water in mineral springs, brine pools or brine deposits. Then the metal is produced through electrolysis from a mixture of lithium chloride and potassium.
The World Leaders In Lithium Production
Brazil produced the seventh most lithium in the world at 400 metric tons in 2014. The country has deposits of the mineral in a few areas in the northern part of the country, including Minas Gerais and Ceara. However, Brazil’s known lithium reserves remain relatively small.
Portugal produces the sixth most lithium at 570 metric tons as per 2014 reports. The majority of the country’s lithium reserves are located in the Goncalo aplite-pegmatite field. There may be other areas of the country that contain lithium, but further exploration and potential technological advancement may be required to determine whether these deposits could become economically feasible.
Zimbabwe produces the fifth most lithium at 1,000 metric tons as per 2014 reports. One company, privately held corporation Bikita Minerals controls nearly all of the country’s lithium mining. The Bikita mine, one of the biggest in Zimbabwe, is located to the south of the country.
Argentina produces the fourth most lithium at 2,900 metric tons. Argentina benefits from geological conditions that created lithium-rich salt flats which fuel lithium production. The most significant salt flat is the Salar del Hombre Muerto, located in the northwestern part of the country.
China produces the third most lithium at 5,000 metric tons. The majority of the country's lithium comes from the Chang Tang plain in western Tibet. China has to fully ramp up its lithium extraction as the need for the metal is steadily rising. China also has a large domestic market for lithium. For now, China gets a lot of its lithium supply from Australia.
Chile produces the second most lithium at 12,900 metric tons in 2014. Chile, like Argentina, benefits from geological conditions that created lithium-rich salt flats. The Atacama salt flat is Chile's most significant source of lithium production. Chilean mines feature the largest confirmed lithium reserves in the world. By some estimates, the country hosts five times more lithium than Australia.
Australia is the world leader in lithium production. Australia has the Greenbushes, which is the world’s largest known single lithium reserve. Companies are also looking at restarting lithium production at Mt. Cattlin in Western Australia. Unlike Chile and Argentina whose lithium is found in brines below the surface of salt flats, Australia extracts lithium from traditional hard-rock mines and exports a proportion of it to China and other Asian countries.
The Applications Of Lithium
Rechargeable batteries for a variety of devices like mobile phones, laptops, digital camera and more utilize lithium. Certain non-rechargeable batteries for items like clocks and pacemakers also make use of the metal. Lithium metal can also to form alloys with aluminum or magnesium, which is used for armor plating and in aircraft, bicycles, and trains. Lithium carbonate is used in the field of making glass and ceramics. It is also involved in producing aluminum. Lithium stearate is used in cosmetics, plastics, and its grease is used in aircraft and marine applications as well as other areas.