Sand, salt, iron, copper, oil and lithium are the foundational materials that make up the modern world. These materials are crucial for various aspects of modern civilization. For example, sand is used for glass, which is essential for fiber optic internet. Copper is required for conductive wiring, and without lithium, there would be no rechargeable batteries.
For the final installment of Hitting the Books for 2023, an excerpt from Material World: The Six Raw Materials That Shape Modern Civilization by Ed Conway is included. In this book, Conway discusses the significant impacts these six substances have had on human civilization throughout history using a mix of narrative storytelling and technical explanation.
The first engineer to use lithium in a battery was Thomas Edison. Edison experimented through the periodic table in an effort to improve battery chemistry. He eventually found that adding lithium hydroxide to the electrolyte solution in his battery improved its capacity. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that a breakthrough in lithium battery technology occurred. Stan Whittingham, an English chemist at Exxon-Mobil, worked out how to shuttle lithium atoms from one electrode to the other without causing damage. This breakthrough led to the creation of the world’s first rechargeable lithium battery.
This excerpt provides insight into the history and development of lithium-ion battery technology, a crucial component in today’s EV revolution. The use of materials such as lithium has greatly shaped modern civilization and is essential for future technological advancements.