Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that belongs to the alkali metal group of chemical elements. It is represented by the symbol Li, and it has the atomic number 3. Under standard conditions, it is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element.
Lithium is a critical component of modern batteries. There are several different battery chemistries involving lithium compounds that include in different proportions cobalt, manganese, nickel, titanium or sulphur. In the 2020s Lithium-based batteries are experiencing very high demand growth owing to their use in electric vehicles and electric battery storage as well as handheld devices. Lithium salts have also for many years proved to be useful as a mood-stabilizing drug due to neurological effects of the ion in the human body. As well as their primary use in batteries, Lithium and its compounds have several other industrial applications, including heat-resistant glass and ceramics, high strength-to-weight alloys used in aircraft.
Lithium is produced from either hard rock pegmatite (spodumene crystals) or from salar brines (salt lakes). The two processes for extraction are drastically different with one being the traditional mining and ore processing with rare metals credits, while the other is more concentration through solar evaporation ponds followed by other processes such as membrane technology or solvent extraction. There have also been discoveries of lithium in clay hectorite.
Worldwide the leading producers of lithium in 2019 were Australia, Chile, China and Argentina. Other countries such as Bolivia have large deposits.
The market price of lithium carbonate, the most widely traded price benchmark, was around US$ 8,750 per tonne in January 2020. It has been in a range of US$ 4,000 to US$ 20,000 in the previous 7 years.