12 Common Uses of Lithium in Everyday Life and Its Side Effects

Lithium is an alkali metal with anomic number 3. It is a chemical element which is also known as Li on the periodic table. Many industries have been using Lithium for different purposes, from medical services to, even, armed forces in several countries. Studies have shown various benefits of Lithium in the human body, but contradicting opinions are also expressed by other scientists following the lack of proper experiments. Meanwhile, Lithium in the industrial world is well-known for a variety of use, from metallurgy to nuclear engineering. Here are the common uses of Lithium in everyday life:

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Lithium Properties

Lithium has melting point of 180.50°C, the lowest among all metals but the highest compared to other alkali metals, and is highly reactive and possesses high flammability tendency similar to other alkali metals. While other alkali metals are commonly found in plant material, Lithium is found in mineral and in spring and ocean waters. It was first discovered by Swedish chemist Johan August Arfwedson in 1817 when he analyzed mineral petalite (LiAl(Si2O5)2).

Lithium only has a valence electron like other alkali metals to form a cation. When a lithium metal is cut open and exposed to open air, the color will quickly turns grim. The coefficient of thermal expansion of Lithium is μm · m−1 · K−1 at 25 °C and its 92.8 nΩ·m at 20 °C.

Lithium can be easily found in fresh vegetables and grains. Although Lithium is useful for the human body, excessive intake of Lithium is not recommended as this chemical element can cause diarrhea, nausea and tiredness due to its toxicity. Here are the common uses of Lithium in everyday life:

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Below is a list of common uses of lithium in different perspectives:

  1. Lithium in batteries

Lithium becomes one of the most important components in electronic devices nowadays as a ingredient for rechargeable batteries. Despite being lightweight, this chemical element is, however, notorious for its flammability since lithium-based batteries are prone to exploding because its single valence electron can be lent to any occurring reaction. This causes many technology companies to rack their brains to prevent such calamity from happening and to ensure the safety of its users.

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  1. Lithium for Alzheimer’s prevention

Although scientists have published plenty of lithium used in neurogical conditions and disorders, the results are mixed as their discoveries are different from one another. Several researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that lithium use does not increase nor decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s.

But several clinical trials made by a joint team of Brazilian scientists have proven that the right amount of lithium use in mice shows that this chemical element can prevent the disease development.

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  1. Lithium in greases

Lithium hydroxide or LiOH can be used to minimalize friction and many companies have produced several variants of lithium-based lubricant for automotive parts, metals and other platforms.  Clarence E. Earle patented lithium salts-based lubricant in 1942 in the US and thus, his product inspired many others to develop different kinds of Lithium lubricant.

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  1. Lithium for bipolar disorder

Lithium is believed to have the ability to control mood swings and reduce the frequency of manic episodes in patients with bipolar disorder. Even though doctors have not found the way how it really works, they suspect that the constant amount of lithium in the human body can affect kidney or thyroid function. Moreover, the role of Lithium in decreasing the risk of bipolar depression is still debatable so that further research is needed before pharmaceutical companies can start manufacturing medicine containing Lithium.

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  1. Lithium hydroxide on space vehicles

What’s the common uses of Lithium in everyday life? Well, international space agencies have been using solid form of LiOH for years on spacecraft to absorb carbon dioxide emitted by the living environment. It then releases oxygen and provides more life supports for the astronauts by forming solid Li2CO3 and liquid.

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  1. Lithium oxide in pottery

Lithium oxide or Li2O is used to reduce the melting point and viscosity of materials needed to manufacture high-strength glasses and ceramics. It works as a purifying agent which prevents oxides from forming on the surface.

  1. Lithium in nuclear reactors

Nuclear power companies in several countries use lithium as a coolant to remove heat on their reactors. According to the World Nuclear Association, Lithium-7 or Li7 is also used to minimize corrosion in their steam generators. Physicists John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton were the fist people who managed to create man-made nuclear reaction by splitting the atom with the help of Lithium-7.

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  1. Lithium fluoride in optics

Due to its refractive index, LiF can be found in different electromagnetic radiation applications. In addition to its benefit in optical industry, Lithium Fluoride is occasionally used in focal lenses to focus high energy proton beams. In addition, lithium fluoride can be found in mobile phones as a crystal oscillator, which generates signals with faultless precision.

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  1. Lithium in military technology

Military technicians use solid lithium as fuel for several kinds of advanced war weapons, including thermonuclear weapons, by utilizing its flammability to generate more heat. That’s one common uses of Lithium in military technology.

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  1. Lithium for bone health

Along with calcium and phosphorus, sufficient lithium inside the human body can support a person’s skeletal system as it enhance bone mass, and it stimulates and strengthen bone formation.

  1. Lithium in suicide prevention

High doses of Lithium in drinking water can reduce mortality rates caused by suicides, although many believe that the effect of Lithium pertaining to suicide prevention is merely a placebo effect because there are no significant reports that can explain how lithium can reduce suicidal tendency in a person.

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  1. Lithium for people with Tourette Syndrome

It is suggested that Lithium can relax body muscles better than prescribed medicine for people with Tourette Syndrome. Unintentional body movements and speeches can be reduced gradually by taking Lithium-based drugs.

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The Drawbacks of Lithium

Aside from all the common uses of Lithium in everyday life that have been mentioned above, there are negative aspects of Lithium that may prevent people from wanting to use it for different purposes. Here is the list of the downside of Lithium:

  1. Lithium drugs can cause several side effects inside the human body depending on the dose and the severity of the illness. User can experience drowsiness and nausea at the same time. Meanwhile, a person’s skin can be more acne prone and sensitive to cold after reacting to Lithium.
  2. Because Lithium is also toxic to the human body, those side effects of Lithium can lead someone into a coma, seizures and blackouts despite Lithium having a therapeutic behavior. Excessive amount of Lithium in the human body can also affect kidney and cause it to misbehave. Lithium also can cause hyperparathyroidism or the increase of parathyroid hormone level in blood.
  3. Lithium has been associated with environmental concern and due to its toxicity, Lithium is harmful for the environment and the proper disposal of products that contain this chemical element is very recommended since releasing toxic metals into nature can ruin the ecosystem. Mobile phone batteries contain acid that are bad for the environment and swollen batteries can easily explode.
  4. Therefore, the proper way of disposing batteries should be learnt by a lot of people. Handing them over to recycling center and retails specializing in auto-parts or mobile phones is suggested since the people who work there have the knowledge on how to manage hazardous materials. Also, putting the damaged battery in a safe container far is recommended.
  5. Children and babies should never be allowed to make contact with Lithium batteries in order to prevent medical problems.
  6. It is not surprising to hear news about explosions that involve Lithium batteries. Lithium is one of alkali metals that can catch fire easily and it has become a big concern in the world of technology especially battery manufacturers.
  7. Some phones can explode during charging, when heat is generated and it causes the temperature of the batter to increase. The overheating is the reason why Lithium batteries can catch fire in a matter of minute.
  8. Mobile phones that have been accidentally dropped several times can also break the battery material and malfunction is surely possible. Lithium use in military weapons is tricky because it contains flammable electrolyte.

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Lithium is highly reactive with water or in in aqueous solution. Once it reacts with water, it will form hydrogen gas and lithium hydroxide. But because Lithium is flammable, the alkali metal will probably create an explosion once it is exposed to water. This behavior of Lithium is later heavily studied by batteries companies to prevent an unwanted accident.

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