lithium: a metal that floats on oil and powers our phones

by:CTECHi     2020-02-03
Lithium, a key ingredient in lightweight batteries, has powered the modern world and may be the key to reducing the world\'s dependence on fossil fuels.
Take a look at satellite images of South America.
Half on the lefthand-
The side is a distinctive white spot.
Closer, the stone monument is the largest salt beach in the world and one of the most extraordinary and unspoilt places on Earth.
It is a crisp, completely flat white plain, like the snow just under, 100 km (60 miles)
Crossing and 3,600 (12,000ft)
Remote Andes in Bolivia
This is Salar de Uyuni, a beautiful place that could be one of the keys to tackling climate change and help get the world out of fossil fuels.
That\'s why, although it may be original, it will most likely disappear after 50 years --
Dredge, crystallize, and transport.
This is because under the thick salt skin, Uyuni Salar is also the world\'s largest single lithium ore bed, which may account for the third place in the world for this alkaline metal resource.
Back at 1980, lithium is one of the more obscure members of the periodic table, just like its next --
Door neighbors are still present today.
It all began to change in 1991, when Sony launched the first portable device ever powered by lithium. ion battery.
Today, of course, the words \"Lithium\" and \"battery\" are almost synonymous --
All of our smartphones, tablets and laptops have this soft metal.
The secret to lithium\'s success is that it is the third element of the periodic table, second only to gas hydrogen and helium.
Its simple atoms, each containing only three protons, make lithium the lightest of all metals.
The pure form of lithium actually floats on the oil that is usually stored by a chemist.
For some reason, it is stored in oil under the inert gas ar.
Because lithium is also the first alkaline metal.
Like its close relatives sodium and potassium, it reacts spontaneously to water, though not as intense as the other two.
All of this makes lithium ideal for lightweight materials
Weight battery.
Andrea Serra, a professor of chemistry at University College London, explained: \"We think the battery generates current and sends electrons around the circuit . \".
\"Of course, as a chemist, I\'m interested in what\'s going on inside the battery.
For each electron, lithium ion must also move inside the battery.
\"Because the light is too light, the atom can easily slide between layered materials that make up the battery.
Its brightness also makes lithium the highest energy density in battery materials-
This means that it stores the most energy at a given weight.
That\'s why lithium is so important in the fight against climate change.
This is the best battery material if you need to carry energy storage with you --
In a gadget, or in a car.
The battery is not the only thing that takes advantage of the unique electro-chemical properties of lithium.
So is the human body.
\"Lithium saved my life.
\"Without it, I would die in the back ward,\" said Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School.
Professor Jamison is an expert in bipolar disorder.
Also known as manic depression
She had the disease herself.
Like many patients with bipolar disorder, she says pills made of pure lithium carbonate are naturally the same --
The substances that are taking place today in many salt lakes have helped eliminate the fanatic climax and suicide trough of the disease.
\"When I didn\'t receive medical advice, I almost immediately started to become manic and then extremely depressed,\" she said . \".
Although people with lithium don\'t have a normal life
These pills cause nausea and make them feel depressed.
It prevents many people from taking their lives.
How this happened is still a mystery.
However, this may have to do with the fact that our nerves and brains do not operate using electronic streams as you think.
Instead, they depend on the flow of ions.
Particles with positive electricity of sodium and potassium.
The researchers speculate that this may be the fluctuation between the over-active and inactive flow of these ions softened by lithium ions.
Medicine may continue to use stable supply of lithium, but according to the Chilean mining company SQM, the demand for this metal is growing at a rate of 20% per year because of increased demand for lithium batteries.
The biggest driver of demand is not gadgets, but cars. Fuel-
It turns out that efficient hybrid vehicles using lithium batteries and electric motors powered by conventional gasoline or diesel engines are very popular.
Due to the limitations of lithium batteries, the market development of pure electric vehicles is slow.
Professor Nigel Brandon of Imperial College London explained: \"In its pure form, lithium actually has the same energy density as gasoline, thousands of researchers have been involved in a huge global effort to get better performance from our batteries.
\"But we can\'t use lithium in pure form.
We have to store it in other materials, which dilute the energy density of the battery in practice.
\"Throw in the weight and energy of the two electrodes, the shell, the electrolyte fluid, etc.
It turns out that the storage performance of your normal electric vehicle battery is only as good as a can of gasoline.
This is important because the less energy the battery stores, the more limited the car\'s range of life.
The limited range of electric vehicles is one of the main reasons why people are reluctant to turn to electric vehicles.
But the good news is there is room for improvement.
Professor Brandon thinks we can see
Over the next 20 years, the energy density has doubled and may even have increased tenfold.
Fold or more if the new technology proves to be successful.
The current research focuses on \"lithium-
Air Batteries, most of which will be replaced by oxygen taken out of the atmosphere.
Even so, Professor Brandon said, the limits of lithium battery chemistry mean that they will never be close to gasoline in terms of energy density.
In fact, in most handheld devices, the improvement of running time is not related to the performance of the battery, but to the great steps to reduce power consumption.
In the foreseeable future, so may electric vehicles --
Engineers will have to design them around the limitations of the battery.
The limitation of energy density is not the only problem because it is not the only thing you care about in the battery.
Otherwise, why is there lead?
Acid batteries in traditional gasoline
Given that lead is the heaviest stable element in the periodic table, driving a car?
The reason is that lead provides two things that lithium can\'t provide at present.
No matter how hot or cold the weather is, the power needed to start the engine has surged, and the incredible durability of the battery\'s thousands of cycles.
As an alkaline metal, the high reactivity of lithium has proven to be a fatal weakness as unnecessary chemical reactions within the battery can lead to its degradation over time.
Although this may not be a problem in a mobile phone, it has a typical working life for two people. to-
Three years, if you want your car battery to last for nearly ten years, it\'s even more of a headache.
Durability is not the only trade.
Researchers like Professor Brandon have to work hard to solve the problem.
Batteries must also be safe and cheap.
As some aircraft and car manufacturers have found, lithium batteries occasionally overheat and catch fire.
Still, we value the freedom and electricity the battery gives us.
The chemical properties of lithium mean that it remains at the heart of their future.
All of this brought us back to South America.
Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is a corner of the \"Lithium Triangle\", which is also located at the northern end of Chile and Argentina.
The three countries dominated the world\'s lithium supply thanks to the incredible geological power of the South American continent.
The diving of the Pacific plate off the coast of Chile, and the resulting South American structural uplift, produced a huge local depression that caused water to flow into the lake rather than into the ocean.
Lithium salts dissolved from the surrounding rocks gather in these great lakes.
The Andes itself also plays a key role.
They squeezed out almost every drop of water from the prevailing wind in the Pacific, making the western slope the driest place on Earth.
This dry climate causes these lakes to evaporate, leaving the crystalline salt you see at Uyuni Salar salt Beach and Atacama Salar salt Beach --
The driest place on Earth
Due to dust from the surrounding desert, Salar de Atacama is not as picturesque as Salar de Uyuni, but it is the largest lithium currently being mined
So why is it that when this place is so busy, the Salar de Uyuni in Uyuni is barely touched?
One of the reasons is geography.
The lithium content of the Atacama deposit is richer than Uyuni and easier to mine because it is closer to the sea, not stuck at the top of the mountains, but on a flat plain.
This makes the roads and infrastructure needed for exports cheaper.
But politics is also a key factor.
Salar de Atacama is controlled by the government of Santiago, which has a long and pleasant working relationship with foreign mining companies that mine copper, Chile\'s largest mineral resource.
Contrast with militants
The government of Bolivia has vowed not to sell to Western companies,
Let\'s say these Western companies believe the government will not confiscate them.
But if the world is to meet future needs, other deposits need to be opened.
Most of them have problems.
Tibet, Afghanistan and, of course, Bolivia.
If the government of Bolivia can learn to work with foreigners with the necessary expertise and strong financial resources to bring these things to market, then, for one of the poorest countries in South America, salar of Uyuni can prove to be a great asset.
Bolivia has just started a pilot mining project.
So, if you can, go and visit this incredible place now, because once the lithium miners finish their work, there may not be much left there.
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