When was lithium discovered? Lithium Discovery History, Mineral Resources, and Extraction

Who discovered lithium?

When was lithium discovered? In 1817, the first piece of lithium ore, lithium permeating feldspar, was discovered by Swedish chemist Johan August Arfvedson (1792-1841) at the end of the 18th century. When thrown into a fire, it emits a strong crimson flame. Johan August Arfvedson of Stockholm (a student of the famous chemist Berzelius) analyzed it and inferred that it contains previously unknown metals, which he referred to as “lithium”. He realized that this was a new alkali metal element. However, unlike sodium ion battery, it was not able to separate it by electrolysis. In 1821, William Brande electrolyzed trace amounts of lithium, but this was not enough for experimental use.

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It was not until 1855 that German chemist Robert Bunsen (Bunsen burner, who invented the Bunsen burner) and British chemist Augustus Matthiessen obtained large blocks of lithium by electrolysis of lithium chloride. The English name of lithium comes from the Greek word “lithos”, meaning “stone”. Lithium is much less abundant in the crust than potassium and sodium, and its compounds are also rare, which is a necessary factor for its discovery later than potassium and sodium. In the second year of lithium discovery, it was reanalyzed and confirmed by French chemist Volkland.

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What is The main lithium ore?

Lithium is known as a “rare metal”, but its content in the crust is not considered “rare”. There is about 0.0065% lithium in the crust, ranking 27th in abundance. There are more than 150 known minerals containing lithium, including mainly spodumene, lithium mica, diopside, and aluminophosphate. The content of lithium in seawater is not small, with a total reserve of 260 billion tons, but the concentration is too small and extraction is difficult. Some mineral water, salt lakes, and plant bodies contain abundant lithium. Some red and yellow seaweed and tobacco often contain more lithium compounds for development and utilization.


Lithium pyroxene (LiAl [Si2O6], spodumene; spodumenite) is one of the main lithium bearing minerals, also known as α- Spodumene is a mineral belonging to the clinopyroxene group. The crystal contains chain like silicate ions, which are in the form of short columns or plates. The vertical crystal surface has crystal plane stripes, and sometimes large crystals can be seen. The aggregates are in the shape of plates and rods, and there are also dense cryptocrystalline blocks. The composition of spodumene often contains trace amounts of sodium, calcium, and magnesium, occasionally mixed with chromium, rare earth, helium, and cesium. Glass luster, colorless streaks. Mohs hardness 6.5-7, density 3.03-3.22. Spodumene is mainly produced in lithium rich granite pegmatite, and associated minerals include quartz, albite, microcline, etc. The pleochroism of the crystal is remarkable. The impurities ferrous and chromium bring emerald green, while manganese ion (+2) turns spodumene into purple. Crystals change color when heated or exposed to ultraviolet radiation, and lose their luster under sunlight. The rapid transformation (reversible) occurs when calcined at around 1000 ℃ β- Lithium pyroxene (room temperature density) and has the property of easy thermal runaway cracking.

Lithium mica

Lithium mica (K2Li3Al4Si7O21 (OH, F) 3, lepidolite), also known as “lepidolite”, monoclinic crystal system, often contains rubidium, cesium, etc. Crystals often form fine scale like aggregates. The color is lavender, sometimes chartreuse, with glass luster. It is mainly found in pegmatite, also in greisen and high-temperature hydrothermal veins, and is also the mineral raw material for extracting lithium. Its properties are relatively stable, only decomposed by acid during melting, with a density of 2.5-3.3.


Lithite feldspar (LiAl[Si4O10], petalite) is a silicate mineral containing three-dimensional framework silicate anions. The color is often white or yellow, occasionally pink, and usually lumpy. Gray, not easy to react with acid, density 2.49-3.46.


Amblygonite (LiAl(F,OH)PO4, Amblygonite), also known as lithium phosphate-aluminite (different from only aluminum phosphate salts), can be completely dissolved in sulfuric acid, has a high lithium content and low reserves, and a density of 2.98 -3.15.

Development and utilization of lithium

Spodumene is the most important industrial mineral, and it is a characteristic mineral in lithium-rich granite pegmatite, which is different from other pyroxene group minerals. It is often associated with crystal, tourmaline, beryl, etc. The chemical composition of spodumene is , of which the theoretical content is as high as . Spodumene concentrate generally contains 6.3~7.5% Li2O, and actually usually contains t in the range of 2.91~7.66%, which may be due to the replacement of lithium by sodium and potassium.

Other minerals also have some uses. Lepidolite, as a lithium-donating agent for ceramics with a small demand, provides a small amount of lithium as an auxiliary agent for ceramics without further purification. Lithium feldspar is used as the supply of lithium additives in the glass industry or as a low-expansion filler for refractory materials.

There are many methods of extracting lithium from Lithium ore in the industrial mass production of lithium. Here are a few main methods:

1. Sulfate method

The first step: sintering reaction:

Considering the cost, it can be partially replaced with ethylene oxide, and the reaction temperature can be reduced to 100%. After that, leaching with cold water (solubility decreases with increasing temperature), such as impurities. can be used or precipitated.

The recovery obtained by leaching is used for precipitation, and a small amount of the remaining liquid is firstly used for precipitation and then converted to water. Summary: First sintering reaction and then precipitation with carbonate. This method is suitable for spodumene and lepidolite, etc.

2. Lime method

The lithium ore is sintered together with lime or limestone, and then soaked in water.

Sintering reaction:


Finally, the lye is evaporated to obtain solid alkali, and the purification is completed. The advantage of this method is the universality of different lithium ore (almost all ores), the disadvantage is that it will reduce the concentration of lithium, and it has requirements for the lithium grade (element content) of the ore.

3. Sulfuric acid method

Decompose the lithium ore with sulfuric acid first:

When was lithium discovered? Lithium Discovery History, Mineral Resources, and Extraction

It should be noted that spodumene (spodumene) must first be converted into active spodumene before it can react. After the reaction, it was also leached with water to obtain a solution. Then use carbonate and other precipitation purification.

4. Other methods

Lithium can be purified by extraction. Lithium in salt lakes and other places can be extracted from the concentrated solution after the raw material solution has completed the production of other sodium salts and magnesium salts (proposed other salts), and the lithium is precipitated into lithium sodium phosphate, which is converted into lithium carbonate after separation.

Uses of lithium metal

  1. Chemical raw materials: used to prepare relatively pure lithium sulfide and other substances
  2. Reducing agent: Birch reduction increases the yield (the yield of lithium is better than that of sodium and potassium)
  3. Polymerization catalyst: Catalyze the polymerization of butadiene, isoprene, styrene and acrylate
  4. Chemical battery: Lithium battery (metal lithium is used as the reductant end, and the paired oxidant includes silver chloride, chlorine, sulfur, iodine, etc.), lithium ion battery (the reductant is graphitized lithium, and the oxidant end is iron phosphate, cobalt acid lithium, manganate, etc.)
  5. Lightweight alloys: mainly formed with other light metals such as magnesium and aluminum, and can also be made into lead-based alloys
  6. Others: degassing agent for absorbing oxygen and nitrogen, deoxidizer for metallurgy, absorbing sulfur, heat conduction agent for atomic reactor (its performance is better than that of sodium potassium alloy, but it cannot be used on a large scale due to the lack of mineral deposits)

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