Lithium was a chemical element, number 3 on the periodic table. It was the lightest alkali metal on the table, with an atomic weight of 6.91. (TNG: "Rascals")

Lithium in a crystal form was utilized in "lithium crystal circuits," important components in the power-generation systems of Constitution-class starships. In order to be utilized in this fashion, lithium crystals were required to be processed in large "cracking stations," such as the one on planet Delta Vega. (TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before") According to Harcourt Fenton Mudd, lithium crystals were worth three hundred times their weight in diamonds and thousands of times their weight in gold. (TOS: "Mudd's Women")

Over-expenditure of power could damage the lithium crystals, as happened to the starship USS Enterprise in 2266, when chasing a Class J cargo ship into an asteroid belt. Forced to extend her shields around the vessel to protect it from asteroid collisions, the Enterprise burned out three of four lithium crystals, forcing the crew to supplement with battery power. The fourth crystal subsequently failed, over stressed from handling all of the ship's power. (TOS: "Mudd's Women")

According to Star Trek Encyclopedia (4th ed., vol. 1, p. 482), lithium was originally used as the basis of power generation and warp technology. However, it was soon realized that lithium was a real element with known properties. At the suggestion of Star Trek scientific advisor Harvey Lynn, dilithium was invented to allow for a fuel material with unknown properties. In the Star Trek: Enterprise episodes "The Augments" and "Affliction", it was established that the NX-class Earth ships and the Klingon Bird-of-Prey in fact already used a dilithium matrix in the mid-22nd century.

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