Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chile: Salar de Atacama & Bipolar Disorder.

Santiago, Chile was the starting point of our recent cruise round Cape Horn. We had a wonderful guide who took us from Santiago city to the Valparaiso port, where we boarded our cruise liner. She was infectiously enthusiastic. She told us that apart from copper, agricultural products and wine, Chile produced something that was very important for her brother.  He suffers from Trastorno Afectivo Bipolar (Bipolar Disorder) and Chile is the world’s largest producer of lithium.


  Wikimedia Commons SalarDeatacamaFromChaxa.jpg
Some of the world’s most important deserts are around the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and here in Chile the desert called Salar de Atacama is no exception. 
Our guide told us that as the snow melts in the Andes the water went underground and dissolves the lithium salt to form lithium brine. It is pumped to the surface where the sun did the rest of the work in evaporating the water content. Lithium could then be extracted from the salt. According to Forbes, the solar energy keeps lithium extraction costs to an estimated $1,260 per ton of lithium carbonate. It sells that ton for up to $12,000.


NASA’s Earth Observatory
From the NASA website:

The Salar de Atacama in Chile is an enclosed basin with no drainage outlets. (Salar is Spanish for “salt flat.”) The salar is located in the southern half of the Atacama Desert; with no historical or current records of rainfall in some parts of this desert, it is considered to be one of the driest places on Earth.

The brines are pumped to the surface through a network of wells and into large, shallow evaporation ponds; three such evaporation facilities are visible in the center of the image. Color variations in the ponds are due to varying amounts of salts relative to water. The dry and windy climate enhances evaporation of the water, leaving concentrated salts behind for extraction of the lithium.


There is increased industrial use of lithium.  Major car manufacturers are switching to lithium batteries which are much lighter than conventional ones. It could mean 250 miles to the gallon for hybrid cars and even better for solar panel ones.
We are already using lithium batteries in a number of electronic equipments such as BlackBerrys, iPods, computers and digital cameras.


Amazing what a desert can yield!

Please spare some lithium for Bipolar Disorder though.



Lithium for Manic-Depressive Disorder (Bipolar Disorder):



Cade, John Frederick Joseph (1912 - 1980)
Taking lithium himself with no ill effect, John Cade then used it to treat ten patients with chronic or recurrent mania, on whom he found it to have a pronounced calming effect. Cade's remarkably successful results were detailed in his paper, 'Lithium salts in the treatment of psychotic excitement', published in the Medical Journal of Australia (1949). He subsequently found that lithium was also of some value in assisting depressives. His discovery of the efficacy of a cheap, naturally occurring and widely available element in dealing with manic-depressive disorders provided an alternative to the existing therapies of shock treatment or prolonged hospitalization.

In 1985 the American National Institute of Mental Health estimated that Cade's discovery of the efficacy of lithium in the treatment of manic depression had saved the world at least $US 17.5 billion in medical costs.

And many lives too!





2 comments:

Ribbon said...

Thank you...
I found this fascinating.
I have heard of lithium, but had no idea of its origin.

best wishes
Ribbon

Cockroach Catcher said...

Thanks for visiting. John Cade of Australia of course discovered Lithium for treating Manic-Depressives (now Bipolar Disorder)