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Science Innovation Centre · 003 · Lithium

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Lithium is the first of the alkalis in the periodic table. In nature it’s found like a mixture of the isotopes Li6 and Li7. It’s the lightest solid metal, it’s soft, silvery-white, with a low melting point and reactive. Many of its physical and chemical properties are more similar to those of the alkaline earth metals than to those of its own group.

Between the most significant properties of lithium we find its high specific heat (calorific capacity), the huge temperature interval in the liquid state, high thermic conductivity, low viscosity and very low density. Metallic lithium is soluble in short chain aliphatic amines, like etilamine. It’s insoluble in hydrocarbons.

Lithium takes part in a huge number of reactions, with organic reactants as well as with inorganic reactants. It reacts with oxygen to form monoxide and peroxide. It’s the only alkaline metal that reacts with nitrogen at ambient temperature to produce a black nitrure. It reacts easily with hydrogen at almost 500°C (930°F) to form lithium hydride. Metallic lithium’s reaction with water is extremely vigorous. Lithium reacts directly with the carbon to produce the carburet. It binds easily with halogens and forms halogenures with light emission. Although it doesn’t react with paraffinic hydrocarbons, it experiments addition reactions with alquenes substituted by aril and diene groups. It also reacts with acetylenic compounds, forming lithium acetylures, which are important in vitamin A synthesis.

The main lithium compound is the lithium hydroxide. It’s a white powder; the manufactured material is monohydrate lithium hydroxide. The carbonate can be used in the pottery industry and in medicine as an antidepressant. The bromine and the lithium chloride both form concentrated brine, which have the property of absorbing the humidity in a wide interval of temperature; these brines are used in the manufactured air conditioning systems.

The main industrial use of lithium is in lithium striatum form, as lubricant grease’s thickener. Other important applications of lithium compounds are in pottery, specifically in porcelain glaze; as an additive to extend the life and performance of alkaline storage batteries and in autogenous welding and brass welding.

Alloys of the metal with aluminium, cadmium, copper, and manganese are used to make high performance aircraft parts.