This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Disappearing Elements? - Part III

In what is shaping up to be a recurring theme, there is yet another report warning of the possible future scarcity of an element. This time it's lithium.

The biggest sources of lithium are salt pans and salt lake deposits, mostly in Chile and Argentina. There is also a large, relatively untapped reserve of lithium salt is in the Bolivia salt pans. The Bolivian reserves are thought to contain 5.4 million tonnes of lithium (nearly 50 per cent of the global lithium salt reserves). Since the annual worldwide production of lithium is about 70,000 tonnes (lithium carbonate), this would seem to indicate we have plenty of lithium for the near future, assuming that demand does not significantly increase. Unfortunately, demand may be about to increase drastically. Lithium ion batteries are becoming all the rage, especially as automakers attempt to mass produce hybrid and electric vehicles.

According to William Tahil, the report's author: "to make 60 million plug-in hybrid vehicles a year containing a small lithium-ion battery would require 420,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate – or six times the current global production annually. But in reality, you'd want a decent-sized battery, so it's more likely you'd have to increase global production 10-fold. And this excludes the demand for lithium in portable electronics." At that rate, lithium is going to run out a lot more quickly.

However, this is not a universally accepted opinion. Keith Evans, a geologist with some expertise in lithium mining, disputes Tahil's conclusions. Evans believes that the available lithium reserves are much larger. His critique of Tahil's report is given here, and additional details can be found at his blog, which is named Lithium Abundance.

I don't use lithium very much in the lab, although I have occasionally used LiAlH4 and LiBH4. Still, I would be rather bummed out if we ever ran out of lithium, or any element for that matter. Let's hope Evans is correct.

In more lighthearted news, John Swain of Northeastern university has a video demonstrating that the iron which is used to enrich cereals like Total is actually in the metallic form. The link to the story is here and a link to a commercial free version of the video is here. I assume this isn't some sort of joke.


Ψ*Ψ said...

no BuLi = lots of organic chemists forced to be much more resourceful :(

Anonymous said...

My name is Jason Gorman and I am 45 years old. My wife was taking 1200mg of Lithium Carbonate daily prescribed by the doctor for over two years. During this time no lab work was ever ordered. It built up in her system over a period of time. She was taken to the ER where she almost died. Her pulse was down to 31 and her blood pressure as low as 43 over 17. She under went kidney dialysis continuously for over 30 hours in ICU. She spent a total of 5 days in the hospital. I strongly recommend against taking Lithium. At least have periodic Lab Work done. Also if you do take this medication look up the side effects on the internet.

My wife has experienced some of these side effects-
Dizziness, Vomiting, Diarrhea, Confusion, Tremors, Muscle Weakness, Loss of Bladder Control, Inability to talk

I hope this information will be useful to others,
Jason Gorman