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What are alkali metals used for?

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Quick Answer

The alkali metal sodium is used in making table salt as well as baking soda, borax and the sodium lamps that illuminate highways. Potassium is another alkali metal and is used in making fertilizers, inks, matches, dyes and fireworks.

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Full Answer

Potassium is a component of KCl, which is a salt that people who need low-sodium diets may use as an alternative to table salt, NaCl. The element's yellow pigmentation makes potassium useful in making items such as dyes and fireworks. Lithium and rubidium are two additional alkali metals that are useful in the production of fireworks and other pyrotechnics. This is because when lithium salts are burned, an intense red color results, while burning rubidium produces a purple color. Lithium is also useful in making the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power many electronic devices. Some other items made with rubidium are laser-cooling devices, photocells and vacuum tubes.

Cesium and francium are also alkali metals. Like rubidium, the chemical properties of cesium make it useful in the manufacturing of photocells and vacuum tubes. Cesium is also a key component of research into the ion-propulsion engines used in spacecrafts. Francium, however, does not have any known real-world uses because of how rare and unstable this alkali metal is.

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