Lithium carbonate is a white hygroscopic powder that is soluble in dilute acid and slightly soluble in acetone. It has a melting point of 723 °C and decomposes upon exposure to air at high temperatures. It has a density of 2.11 g/mL, a refractive index of 1.528 and is odorless. It is insoluble in hot water and ethanol and its solubility decreases with increasing temperature.
It is produced by reacting lithium salts with soda or potash. It is a major raw material used in the manufacture of glass ceramics, electrical porcelain and as a raw material for lithium-ion batteries. Lithium carbonate is also used to produce other lithium compounds and as a catalyst.
Molecular modeling studies show that lithium carbonate forms different ion pairs with ions from other groups of metals in electrolytes, depending on the solvent structure. For example, butylene carbonate forms contact- and solvent separated ion pairs, while dimethyl carbonate form only contact-ion pairs. The difference in ion pair structures is consistent with the differences observed in the overall solvation shells of these two solvents.
Lithium carbonate is the most commonly prescribed antimanic drug for bipolar disorder in the United States. It is thought that it works by affecting various neurohumoral signaling systems in the brain and by competing with sodium for ion exchange across the cell membrane, thus modulating the release of certain neurotransmitters. It is known to cause a variety of side effects, including gastrointestinal upset, kidney and liver problems, and bone problems.