Safety PrecautionsLithium 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.
MaterialsYou 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
- Insulated Wirecutters and Pliers
ProcedureBasically 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.