Chemical Element: lithium

(Modern Latin: chemical element; from Greek, lithos, "stone, stony"; metal)

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: Li
Atomic number: 3
Year discovered: 1817

Discovered by: Johan August Arfvedson (1792-1841), a Swedish chemist from Stockholm.

  • The mineral petalite was discovered by the Brazilian scientist José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva towards the end of the 18th century while visiting Sweden.
  • Lithium was discovered by Johan August Arfvedson in 1817 during an analysis of petalite ore, an ore now recognized to be taken from the Swedish island of Utö.
  • Arfvedson subsequently discovered lithium in other minerals (spodumene and lepidolite) containing lithium.
  • C. G. Gmelin observed, in 1818, that lithium salts result in flames that are a bright red color.
  • Neither Gmelin nor Arfvedson were able to isolate the element itself from lithium salts, for example by heating the oxide with iron or carbon.
  • The first isolation of elemental lithium was achieved later by W. T. Brande and Sir Humphrey Davy by the electrolysis of lithium oxide.
  • In 1855, Robert Bunsen and A. Mattiessen isolated larger quantities of the metal by electrolysis of lithium chloride.
  • In 1923, the first commercial production of lithium metal was achieved by Metallgesellschaft AG in Germany using the electrolysis of a molten mixture of lithium chloride and potassium chloride.
  • A freshly cut lithium chunk is silvery, but it tarnishes in a minute or so in air resulting in a grey surface.
  • It is used in combination with aluminium and magnesium for light-weight alloys, and is also used in batteries, some greases, some glasses, and in medicine.
  • It has been used as a degasifier in the production of high-conductivity copper and bronze castings and is also used in the synthesis of Vitamin A.
  • Lithium compounds are used in lubricants and ceramics, which consume the largest quantities, and in air conditioning, welding, and brazing.

Name in other languages:

French: lithium

German: Lithium

Italian: litio

Spanish: litio

Information about other elements may be seen at this Chemical Elements List.

A special unit about words that include chemo-, chem- may be seen here.

One important use of lithium may be seen at this Lithium for battery-driven cars page.