Mining for lithium metal as an element has been around since at least 1989, but it was not until recently that lithium metal’s multiple applications were fully realized. These applications include electric vehicle battery and hybrid car battery manufacturing, medical and industrial uses, as well as recycling for eventual reuse in lithium metal batteries. In the past, mining for lithium metal required large underground mines to extract the needed lithium ions, however, today, lithium metal is found in many different places which is why surface mining is no longer necessary. So why is it important to mine for lithium metal?
Lithium metal has a lot of advantages over other elements that are used for the manufacture of high-performance lithium batteries, so it is important that we take advantage of these benefits. Lithium ion batteries have much higher voltages, which provide longer ranges, denser discharge rates, and superior ionic mobility compared to other elements. These factors combined will ensure that lithium metal batteries have an advantage over competing technologies, thus increasing their global market penetration. Also, with these higher voltage/lower weight/high density characteristics comes much better energy dissipation. This allows for longer charging times and extended driving range, and ultimately, greater overall performance and power.
As you might suspect, lithium metal is also very useful for manufacturing electric car batteries. One of the reasons that this element is so useful to manufacturers of electric cars is that lithium metal does not become toxic once it has been mixed with water. Additionally, lithium metal batteries do not become unstable once they are charged. With all these benefits, it is easy to see why lithium metal batteries are becoming very popular for use in electric cars. However, the biggest drawback to using lithium metal batteries is that it is expensive and dangerous to manufacture these batteries on a large scale, which is why they are currently only being used by startup companies that are attempting to develop a new technology using small amounts of lithium ion material.
Another lithium metal-based technology currently in development is called lithium metal hydroelectricity. This process combines the use of water to increase the production of lithium ions, as well as the use of land and vegetation to collect them. In this process, lithium metal is used in the same way that oxygen is used in air-conditioning systems: as a catalyst. When the temperature and pressure increase to a point where there is too much force for the metal to dissolve into the liquid (called electrolysis), it will be separated into two molecules, one with a positive charge and one with a negative charge. This new technology hopes to create a cheap, abundant source of electricity by allowing plants to fertilize the soil with a wide variety of natural compounds.
While the potential applications of lithium metal are vast, the biggest problem that lies in the way of mining for lithium ions is the sheer amount of lithium metal needed for a particular application. As previously mentioned, lithium metal electrodes can only be manufactured on a large scale if the materials are readily available. Fortunately, advances in material science have recently been made that promise to make the manufacturing of lithium ions easier and more cost effective; opening up new possibilities for mining for lithium ions.
One such advance is the discovery of lithium metal boron, which plays an important role in charging many batteries and electronic devices. Because boron acts as an ionic conductor, it is able to transport electric current easily through a range of electronic devices, from watches to car navigation systems. By placing the lithium boron ion close to an area where there is an electrical current running, scientists have discovered that the boron ion is able to conduct electrical current even under very low temperatures. Mining for lithium metal boron and other new ionic materials could allow companies to produce more lithium metal, opening up more lucrative uses for this earth-friendly mineral.