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The first of the alkali metals, lithium is soft and silvery white in elemental form, but it darkens rapidly when exposed to air. Lithium is the lightest solid metallic element, and it has a low melting point. It reacts with a variety of elements and compounds to produce salts, such as sodium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. It is used in the manufacture of glass, ceramics and metallurgy. It is also used as an intermediate in organic synthesis, especially as an initiator for polymerization. It is also a component of some types of batteries.
Lithium is a highly reactive metal, reacting readily with air to form toxic vapors and forming a strong acid, lithium hydroxide. It is a good scavenger of impurities in metallurgy, and it is used to make alloys with nickel, iron, copper and zinc. Its major industrial use is in lithium-ion batteries.
Most modern lithium-ion battery anodes are graphite-based, using the dual intercalation mechanism (see Figure 1). The electrodes are made of graphene sheets staggered in either an AB or ABC (hexagonal and rhombohedral) stacking arrangement. When the electrodes are charged, lithium ions enter and exit the graphene domains in a periodic array of occupied and unoccupied galleries, resulting in a series of plateaus in the electrochemical voltage profiles of the half-cell.
Because of the volatility of lithium, the batteries are classified as Hazardous Goods Class 9. When not properly managed, these batteries can overheat and explode.