8 Explosive Facts about Lithium

Someone called one of our expert consultants at 800-426-2344 last week and asked, “Is lithium a precious metal?” He had a lot of old printed-circuit boards that had batteries attached to them and was wondering if he would get paid for the lithium that they contained if he sent them in to be recycled.

Shown: the periodic table symbol for Lithium, element 3, which is very volatile and must be removed from any electronics before they can be recycled and refined by Specialty Metals.

Our consultant informed the caller that no, lithium is not a precious metal and that he would be paid only for the gold that his circuit boards contained, not for any lithium.

But then our consultant told him something important to know about lithium . . .

Fact 1: Lithium Explodes

Because lithium is highly volatile, lithium batteries can and will explode if they are handled improperly. That will happen when someone makes the mistake of shredding a printed-circuit board that has a lithium battery attached to it. So please be aware that if you have printed circuit boards that contain lithium batteries, they should be recycled only by a qualified precious metals refinery, not by amateurs. The batteries must be removed before the rest of the boards are processed.

Here are some other facts about lithium that you need to know if you have electronic scrap to recycle.

Fact 2: Lithium Is a Highly Volatile Element

It is an alkali metal with an atomic number of 3. Like the other alkali metals, it is highly reactive. In order to be stored safely in laboratory settings, it must be immersed in oil to prevent it from oxidizing. Like sodium, it is dangerous to handle or process.

Fact 3: Lithium Is Common in Nature, but Never in Pure Form

Because lithium is so reactive and quick to oxidize, it is only found in minerals that contain lithium that has bonded with other metals. And here’s another interesting fact. The earth’s ocean contains vast quantities of lithium (which dissolves in saline solutions), but there is no commercially viable way to extract it.

Fact 4: Scientists Think Lithium Is One of the Earliest Elements

They think that it was one of the first small number of elements that were born when the “big bang” happened and the universe was created.

Fact 5: Your Body Contains Lithium

It is part of the chemical composition of our bodies. But don’t worry. The concentrations of it in the human body are so small that you won’t explode.

Fact 6: Batteries Have Created a High Demand for Lithium

Lithium batteries can be found in smart phones, laser pointers, digital thermometers, pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, digital cameras and even toys like remote-controlled drones and planes. It is kind of worrisome that such a volatile element is found in so many places in our cars, homes, and even bodies.

Fact 7: Lithium Is Widely Used to Treat Mental Conditions

Along with its other uses, lithium is widely used in small concentrations to treat manic depression, hyperactivity and other mental disorders. It works because it limits the flow of sodium through cell tissues, and high concentrations of sodium in the brain can cause aggression, anger and hyperactivity in people with chemical brain imbalances.

Fact 8: Lithium Batteries Must Be Disposed of Properly

It is irresponsible and potentially dangerous to simply toss out old cellphones or other devices that contain lithium batteries. If you have battery-powered items that you want to discard safely, contact your municipality to find out how.

And if you, like our caller, have printed circuit boards to recycle, be sure to recycle them responsibly. Call our consultants at 800-426-2344 to learn more.

Related Posts:

Why Recycling Precious Metals Should Be Done by Professionals
How Are Precious Metals Recovered from Electronic Scrap?
A Brief History of Circuit Boards and the Gold They Contain
Watch the Gold You Can Recycle from Circuit Boards Pile Up in these Videos