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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

How to Get Lithium from a Battery

By January 11, 2014

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You can obtain pure lithium from a lithium battery. It's an adult-only project and even then, you need to use safety precautions, but it's simple and easy.

Safety Precautions

Lithium reacts with moisture and may spontaneously ignite. Don't allow it to come in contact with your skin. Also, cutting into a battery often causes a short circuit, which may produce a fire. While this is not unexpected or problematic, it does mean you need to perform this procedure on a fire-safe surface such as concrete, preferably outdoors. Eye and skin protection is a must.

Materials

You want a new battery for this project since the lithium can be extracted as a relatively uncorroded metal foil. If you use a used battery you'll get a product that might be better for making colored fire, but it will be impure and fragile.
  • New Lithium Battery (e.g., AA or 9V lithium battery)
  • Safety Glasses or Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Insulated Wirecutters and Pliers

Procedure

Basically you cut the top off the battery to expose the roll of lithium metal foil inside. The "trick" is to do this without shorting out the battery. While you don't want a fire, be prepared for one. Simply drop the battery and let it burn out. This should not take long and usually won't damage much of the lithium metal in the battery. Once the fire is out, proceed.
  1. You're wearing protective gear and know not-to-panic if you see fire, right? Okay then, use the cutters to carefully remove the top from the battery. This is when you're most likely to accidentally cause a short. Try to cut the tough outer rim of the casing without hitting the central core.

  2. Quickly cut any connections and remove any rings or disks from the top of the battery. If the battery starts to get hot, you likely have a short. Cut away anything suspicious to address the issue.

    Cut and peel back the casing to expose the metal core, which is the lithium. Use pliers to extract the lithium. Try not to puncture the central plastic container, as this can lead to a short and fire. It's sort of like playing that Operation game except if you touch something you shouldn't, you'll heat up the metal and potentially see fire.

  3. Pull away the plastic tape or wrap and unroll the metal. The shiny metal is aluminum foil, which you may remove and discard. Black powdery material is electrolyte, which you can wrap in plastic and discard in a fire-safe container. Remove any additional plastic. You should be left with sheets of lithium metal, which will oxidize as you watch from silver to brown.

  4. Either use the lithium right away or store it right away. It degrades quickly in air, especially humid air. You can use the lithium for projects (for example, it burns bright white as a metal while its salts impart a red color to flames or fireworks) or store the lithium under liquid paraffin oil.
Photo: Strips of lithium foil under liquid paraffin. (Tomihahndorf)

Feel free to post your experiences with this project, as well as any suggestions or cautions and ideas for what to do with the lithium once you have it.

Comments

November 8, 2011 at 9:35 am
(1) cocoon bobbins says:

Very infomative post. I was not familiar with recovery and reuse of lithium and so just learned some valuable information, thanks.

May 31, 2012 at 1:57 pm
(2) Arnab says:

I like that.Now I am going to make lithium

June 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm
(3) fidelis says:

tanx for goood information like this never know that lithium battery can burn and is this dangerous to skin and eyes thanks once again.

June 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm
(4) A Student says:

This is a very informative page. However, is it possible to recycle everything in the battery to make a new one? And can we safely store lithium without corrosion or any reactions in vegetable oil?

June 7, 2012 at 11:57 pm
(5) ravindra s. Dangi says:

Thanx to ANNIE mam, you always provide so intresting and useful knowledge. Nobody can give to much.

January 30, 2013 at 1:19 pm
(6) Josh says:

About how much Lithium (size/wt) can be recovered fro one 9v battery? What sort of chemistry purposes are you using the Lithium for? Can it be safely stored indefinitely?

February 4, 2013 at 11:25 am
(7) Chemist says:

If you follow the above procedure you are very likely to injure yourself, if you don’t then you got lucky the first time.

This is very simple to explain, there are no experiments which can be safely performed outside of a laboratory with lithium metal unless you are qualified to handle it.

If you are not sure whether or not you are qualified then here is a simple rule to follow; If you need to get lithium metal from batteries then you are NOT qualified to handle lithium metal.

If you are qualified to handle lithium metal then you will work in or own a laboratory and will be able to purchase it from one of the many and varied global chemical suppliers for whatever purpose you need it for.

Lithium sits very near to the top of the reactivity series, this means that it likes to donate electrons to pretty much everything.

Lithium fires cannot be put out with water or CO2 as both happily accept electrons from Lithium so if you start a fire then all you can do is watch it burn until all of the lithium has oxidized. Once lithium has burned you have lithium oxide (Li2O) which is highly corrosive and reacts exothermically with water.

November 27, 2013 at 7:15 am
(8) vini says:

How can I reuse lithium metal from used battery, and what kind of material need to make lithium battery.

January 24, 2014 at 3:41 am
(9) Linn Htin says:

Where could I get a machine or equipment to get Lithium from a unused battery?

May 17, 2014 at 10:09 am
(10) Risk Taker says:

I Can hardly wait to get some lithium/Oxide and make firecrackers. Guys like “chemist” need to relax a little. Real Scientist are not Chickens!

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