Lithium is a silver-white, lightweight, heat-resistant metal that has other properties that also make it ideal for rechargeable batteries — offering higher power and lower self-discharge rates than other chemical materials. Represented with the symbol Li and atomic number 3, lithium can be found in brines, clays and hard pegmatitic rock, but the brines — such as the deposits mined by Lithium Exploration Group — offer a significant cost advantage by a factor of about two or more.
Over the past two decades, lithium has become an integral component in a wide range of technology and environmental applications from small electronic devices to, more recently, electric and hybrid vehicles. Not only is lithium useful as a consumer and industrial metal, lithium battery technology is expected to play an essential role in the impending revolution in green energy.
Lithium batteries are in increasing demand because they offer a number of advantages over competing technologies. They contain three times the energy density of nickel metal hydride batteries, while recharging faster for up to 3,000 recharge cycles. Lithium batteries also offer better acceleration in electric vehicles, a benefit for consumers. And finally, they are suitable for use in extreme temperature environments — up to 60 degrees Celsius.
With its properties as a lightweight, reliable power source, lithium batteries are best known for their usage in electronics products such as mobile phones, laptop computers, MP3 players and high-end rechargeable power tools. But the potential of lithium within other markets continues to expand rapidly:
Driving the future of passenger vehicles.
Billions in grants, tax credits and loans have been dedicated toward domestic production of lithium-ion batteries for hybrid and electric cars — and every major manufacturer is on board. With tax credits helping boost demand for those vehicles — perhaps as high as 10% of the U.S. fleet by 2020 — the need for more sophisticated lithium-based batteries is a given. The 2011 launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, both of which use lithium battery technologies, are the first wide-scale passenger cars initiatives to do so.
Doing the heavy lifting.
In addition to consumer-oriented vehicles, heavy-duty uses include diesel-hybrid rail-drive units, buses, forklifts, port cranes and construction equipment.
Turning the wheels of industry.
From the production of ceramics, optical glass and pharmaceuticals to aluminum alloys for aircraft parts, lithium is an essential part of the manufacturing equation. Lithium compounds can be used as industrial lubricants, desiccants, and chemical bases, and they're used in rocket propellants.
Pairing with other alternative energy sources.
High energy costs and global warming concerns have prompted further development and adoption of alternative energy generation technologies such as solar and wind. To be effective round-the-clock, however, those energy sources need to be captured and stored — again, a perfect fit for lithium-based batteries.
|How Much Lithium Do You Need?|
|Cellular phones||5 grams|
|Laptop computers||10 grams|
|Electric hybrid vehicles||6 kilograms|
|Plug-in hybrid vehicles||12 kilograms|
|40 kWh electric vehicle||24 kilograms|