Strategic Minerals - "Lithium"



As the energy metal of the 21st century, lithium is used in everything from nuclear weapons to batteries, and from air and space vehicles to underwater equipment.

It is because lithium in a number of fields have played an important role, but also makes it become an important weight of the game between countries.

01 nuclear weapons raw materials

In 1800, a Brazilian chemist traveled on a small island in Sweden, discovered lithium feldspar.

In 1817, the Swedish chemist Johan August Avedesson in the analysis of lithium feldspar, found that the stone containing this unknown metal element thrown into the fire will emit a deep red flame, so the Greek "lithos (stone)" named lithium (Lithium).

Lithium metal has a low melting point (180℃), high boiling point (1327℃), low density, high heat capacity and high thermal conductivity, making it an ideal tritium multiplier.

As the lightest metallic element in nature, lithium has a density of 0.534 g/cm3 at room temperature, which is only about half that of water, and thus can float on the surface of paraffin.

Because the outermost electrons of the lithium atom are extremely easy to lose when in contact with other elements, monatomic lithium is easy to combine with other elements. It can react with oxygen in the air to form a loose white oxide, or dissolve in liquid ammonia to form black trilithium nitride crystals.

Lithium can also react violently with water and release hydrogen, 1 kg of lithium hydride and water can release 2800 liters of hydrogen. Because lithium is easy to combine with oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur, it can also be used as a deoxidizer in the metallurgical industry.

Adding a small amount of lithium to copper can remove the oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and other impurities in copper through the reaction, dramatically improving the performance of copper. Add a small amount of lithium in aluminum, magnesium and other metals, can improve its strength and acid and alkali resistance. Adding lithium hydroxide to alkaline batteries can dramatically increase battery capacity.

Due to the chemically active nature of lithium, the technological cost of preparing lithium monomers is prohibitive, and as a result, several decades elapsed between the discovery of the element lithium and the possibility of industrially preparing lithium monomers.

It was not until 1855 that the German chemist Robert Bunsen and the English chemist Augustus Mathieson, by electrolyzing chlorine, were able to produce lithium monomers industrially. Mathieson, the German chemist Robert Bunsen and the British chemist Augustus Mathieson, through the electrolysis of lithium chloride to obtain large pieces of lithium, and from then on began the industrial production of lithium course.

Initially, only Germany, the United States, the Soviet Union and a few other countries mastered the large-scale manufacturing technology of lithium, with the development of technology, lithium began to be widely used in a number of fields and gradually become a strategic resource.

As we all know, nuclear fusion reaction is a process in which lighter hydrogen nuclei (mainly hydrogen isotopes and tritium) are polymerized into heavier nuclei (ammonia), while releasing enormous energy.

In nature, deuterium is extremely accessible in seawater, which contains 0.03 grams of deuterium per liter of seawater and is abundant. Compared with deuterium, tritium is very rare in nature, and tritium can be produced by reacting lithium isotopes with neutrons.

According to public information, when lithium used as a hydrogen bomb charge, 1 kg of lithium deuteride explosive power and 50,000 tons of trinitrotoluene equivalent. Therefore, lithium is commonly used to manufacture hydrogen bombs, neutron bombs and other nuclear weapons.

At the same time, due to this reaction process, neutrons can react with lithium, and then produce new tritium, and then continue to promote the fusion reaction, coupled with lithium's large specific heat capacity, low density, very suitable for cooling systems.

As a result, lithium is also used in controlled thermonuclear reactors for nuclear power generation and for the critical task of transmitting the heat of the reaction.

The U.S. Energy and Development Administration has pointed out in its forecast report on the amount of lithium to be used for nuclear fusion in 2030 that 16,000 to 70,000 tons of lithium will be needed to ensure its participation in the fusion reaction and conduction of heat to play a dual role in the realization of the importance of lithium in the field of nuclear energy can be seen.

02 International Gaming

Lithium is present in the earth's crust at a level of about 0.0065% and is found on all six continents. Due to its high activity, lithium can only exist in the form of compounds in nature.

Currently, there are more than 150 known lithium-bearing minerals, mainly in the form of lithium pyroxene, lithium mica, lithium feldspar, phosphorite and other forms of existence.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the global lithium resources reserves of about 21.055 million tons of metal, equivalent to lithium carbonate equivalent (Lithium Carbonate Equivalent) more than 100 million tons.

According to the global supply and demand of about 400,000 tons of LCE in 2020, the static guarantee life of the resource reserves is more than 200 years.

Global lithium resources are abundant and highly concentrated, with 73% of lithium resources distributed in North and South America, and relatively few lithium resources distributed in Oceania, Asia, Europe and Africa, accounting for 8%, 7%, 7% and 5% respectively.

In terms of countries, lithium resources are mainly distributed in South America "lithium triangle" region (Bolivia, Chile and Argentina), the United States, Australia and China.

According to the data in 2021, the reserves of Chile, Australia, Argentina, China and the United States are 9.2 million tons, 5.7 million tons, 2.2 million tons, 1.5 million tons and 750,000 tons, accounting for 87.95% of the total reserves.

With the development of the lithium industry, global lithium production is also a growing trend, but based on the distribution of lithium resources, development methods and extraction technology differences, or will affect the scale and cost of lithium resource development, the global lithium resources with economic extraction value is still limited, especially in recent years with the new energy vehicle production surge, the global lithium consumption structure has undergone a huge change in lithium consumption in the battery industry is growing rapidly.

Before, lithium batteries are only used in small electronic products such as cell phones, each device requires only a few grams of lithium, and now a Tesla Model 3 car to dozens of kilograms of lithium, is a few thousand times the cell phone. The blowout demand for lithium, once a niche element, coaxed into one of the world's most sought-after resources.

According to industry forecasts, by 2025, global lithium demand will reach 1.5 million tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE), by 2030 will exceed 3 million tons of LCE, while the opposite is that 2021 global production of only 540,000 tons of LCE.

Based on these demand projections, production would have to triple by 2025 and nearly sixfold by 2030. As new lithium projects may take more than 6 to 15 years to come online, the lithium market will experience tight supply and demand conditions in the coming years.

03 Military Applications

As lithium batteries have the advantages of high voltage, small size, light weight, high specific energy, small self-discharge, long life, etc., they are regarded as the battery type with the best comprehensive performance at present, and have been widely used in the military field.

Military special lithium batteries, in addition to the safety and storage functions of conventional lithium batteries, also has a wide range of operating temperatures, moisture-proof, shock-proof, anti-corrosion, smooth performance and high reliability, power supply without interruption and other characteristics to adapt to the relatively harsh operating environment.

In ground equipment, lithium batteries are mainly used in military unmanned ground vehicles, robots, hybrid vehicles, not only to reduce fuel consumption, reduce the logistical burden, but also to improve the engine power of tactical vehicles.

Lithium batteries have a high rate of charging ability, the larger the current the shorter the charging time, and can do the same volume of higher power density, which is conducive to the troops to carry out emergency tasks.

Like some communication, accusation, reconnaissance, positioning with tactical portable equipment, usually use lithium batteries as the core power supply unit.

In terms of man-portable combat systems, high rate of military lithium batteries not only compared to the previous nickel-metal hydride batteries to reduce the load of about 1/3 of the equipment, improve the flexibility and mobility of man-portable tactical operations, but also to extend the working time of the equipment by 2 to 3 times, to maximize the guarantee of the reliability of the field combat.

In the aerospace field, since spacecraft are particularly sensitive to weight, a large number of applications of lithium batteries, which are light in mass and have a high specific energy.

According to estimates, a 20 kilowatt power consumption of high-orbit satellites, such as the use of lithium battery pack instead of nickel-metal hydride battery pack, then only the weight of the battery pack can save more than 300 kilograms.

Lithium batteries can not only do miniaturization, lightweight, its life than zinc-silver batteries longer than more than ten times, coupled with its outstanding low self-discharge, no memory effect, adapt to a wide range of temperature advantages, to be widely used in the aerospace field.

In recent years, the ESA launched the SMART lunar probe, "Mars Express" space probe, the United States NASA launched the "Courage" and "Opportunity" Mars detector All of them use lithium batteries as energy storage power source.