Books first. The Christmas anthology is complete, just waiting for one author to come back with any last minute changes (to be fair, it’s less than 48 hours since I sent that PDF out) and then I’m back on the next novel in line. Underdog Anthology 19 is called ‘Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas’ and I have two main options for the cover, which I will post here for a vote.
And now lithium. This is right at the top of the Periodic Table and it’s an incredibly reactive metal. Very very dangerous indeed in its pure form. It’s used in many kinds of batteries now, especially rechargeable ones, and those batteries are hard to get rid of safely when they die.
When I was in school, in the seventies, we had some wonderfully deranged chemistry teachers (there was a lunatic physics teacher too, who let us loose with all kinds of things young teenagers shouldn’t have been trusted with, but more on that another time). There was never a boring chemistry lesson.
One of these chemistry teachers showed us 12-year-olds how water is formed. He had a cone shaped thing on a stand, pumped in one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen, lit the top and ran to the back of the class. There was a whine that declined in pitch until BLAM, the thing popped and fell over. It was great.
Another chemistry teacher explained the first column of the periodic table by taking tiny slices of potassium and sodium and dropping them into water. They burst into flame. You can’t extinguish these fires with water. Water just makes them burn faster.
That teacher explained, somewhat crestfallen, that he wasn’t allowed to show us the lithium reaction because lithium was far too dangerous to have in a classroom. It would burn on contact with air, and burn even more fiercely in contact with water. He did have lumps of pure phosphorus though. That was fun.
So, we learned that setting fire to hydrogen and oxygen produced water, a totally harmless substance that puts out fires – unless it is combined with the metals in the first column of the periodic table in which case it becomes something that can burn.
Consider: these chemistry teachers were quite happy to let us have access to things like pure ethanol and cyclohexamide and even to distil ethanol-dissolved compounds using a gas flame from a Bunsen burner. There was a really funny day when one kid didn’t have his ground glass joints sealed properly. Those teachers showed us how to produce sulphur dioxide, nitrogen triiodide and other things that would get you on a terrorist watch list in these modern feeble days. In physics class, we etched circuit boards using ferric chloride. Unsupervised, often. They’d let us loose with stuff that could kill us all and they’d go for a cup of tea. Maybe they didn’t really like us.
But even these lunatics weren’t allowed to play with lithium. We could light magnesium ribbon and watch it burn. We could poke mercury around the bench tops with our fingers. We could watch sodium and potassium react violently with water, and phosphorus with air. We could pour cyclohexamide into a sink and set fire to it (well, the teachers weren’t around for that one, nor for the time we filled the Bunsen tubes with water) but we were not allowed to see a lithium reaction.
Might give you an idea just how bad a lithium reaction really is. It is, really, exceptionally bad. And it takes very little to start it.
The internet is full of videos of electric vehicles spontaneously combusting. Lithium is so reactive that you just need a pinhole in a battery to get it started and then there is absolutely no way to stop it. Pour water on it and it just reacts faster.
YouTube has videos of people puncturing lithium batteries and the resulting firestorms. I have a few dead lithium batteries here, mostly from dead tablets, but if I do decide to film their puncturing I’m not doing it with a hammer and spike. I’ll do it with a crossbow from a safe distance. I like my fingers and don’t intend to lose any for the sake of a few YouTube upvotes.
Most of those sleek, low slung modern sporty electric dodgems have the batteries in the floor. Drive one up the farm track here and your arse will be on fire before you get to the house. I have a high ground clearance car for a very good reason, the farm track will rip the bottom off most modern town cars.
I do not ever want to sit on top of a slab of lithium batteries. If it starts to burn it’ll be very fast. You’d need Bruce Lee reaction times to get out of there.
The only use I’d have for an electric car would be if its dead battery were removed. I’d put a diesel generator in the back and rig it directly to the electric motors. Diesel-electric motive power, like a lot of railway engines.
Oh and you know the thing about diesel engines? They’ll run on vegetable oils. That’s what they were originally designed to run on.
And that’s why they don’t want you to have them 😉