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Where the Most Important Part of Your Battery Comes From

Lithium (Greek for “stone”) is the third element on the periodic table, a silvery-white alkali metal that’s soft enough to be cut with a table knife. It’s also the lightest metal on Earth, as well as the least-dense solid element. It has the equivalent density of a plank of pine wood, and half that of water. It floats in oil (and water too, though that’d end very badly since, you know, alkali go boom), and since it’s reactive with moisture in the air, pure lithium is typically stored in anaerobic conditions and covered in either mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or some other such non-reactive liquid.

That’s not to say that you can just dig a hole and pull out a chunk of lithium. No, it’s far too corrosive and reactive for that; in fact, lithium never occurs freely in nature. Instead it’s always found as a compound, often in pegmatitic minerals, as well as in ocean water, brines, and clays. Problem is, even though lithium is relatively abundant—it is the 33rd most common element—it’s very diffuse throughout nature, which means that collecting and concentrating it into a commercially viable form is a massive pa


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