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Nickel
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 12:14

U.S.Geological Survey (USGS): Nickel

 

Statistics and Information: Nickel (Ni) is a transition element that exhibits a mixture of ferrous and nonferrous metal properties. It is both siderophile (i.e., associates with iron) and chalcophile (i.e., associates with sulfur). The bulk of the nickel mined comes from two types of ore deposits:

  • laterites where the principal ore minerals are nickeliferous limonite [(Fe,Ni)O(OH)] and garnierite (a hydrous nickel silicate), or
  • magmatic sulfide deposits where the principal ore mineral is pentlandite [(Ni,Fe)9S8].
  • The ionic radius of divalent nickel is close to that of divalent iron and magnesium, allowing the three elements to substitute for one another in the crystal lattices of some silicates and oxides. Nickel sulfide deposits are generally associated with iron- and magnesium-rich rocks called ultramafics and can be found in both volcanic and plutonic settings. Many of the sulfide deposits occur at great depth. Laterites are formed by the weathering of ultramafic rocks and are a near-surface phenomenon. Most of the nickel on Earth is believed to be concentrated in the planet's core.

Nickel is primarily sold for first use as refined metal (cathode, powder, briquet, etc.) or ferronickel. About 65% of the nickel consumed in the Western World is used to make austenitic stainless steel. Another 12% goes into superalloys (e.g., Inconel 600) or nonferrous alloys (e.g., cupronickel). Both families of alloys are widely used because of their corrosion resistance. The aerospace industry is a leading consumer of nickel-base superalloys. Turbine blades, discs and other critical parts of jet engines are fabricated from superalloys. Nickel-base superalloys are also used in land-based combustion turbines, such those found at electric power generation stations. The remaining 23% of consumption is divided between alloy steels, rechargeable batteries, catalysts and other chemicals, coinage, foundry products, and plating. The principal commercial chemicals are the carbonate (NiCO3), chloride (NiCl2), divalent oxide (NiO), and sulfate (NiSO4). In aqueous solution, the divalent nickel ion has an emerald-green color.

Nickel
(Data in metric tons of nickel content unless otherwise noted)

 

U.S. Domestic Production and Use: The United States did not have any active nickel mines in 2008. Limited amounts of byproduct nickel were recovered from copper and palladium-platinum ores mined in the Western United States. On a monthly or annual basis, 110 facilities reported nickel consumption. The principal consuming State was Pennsylvania, followed by Kentucky, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Approximately 52% of the primary nickel consumed went into stainless and alloy steel production, 34% into nonferrous alloys and superalloys, 10% into electroplating, and 4% into other uses. End uses were as follows: transportation, 30%; chemical industry, 15%; electrical equipment, 10%; construction, 9%; fabricated metal products, 8%; household appliances, 8%; petroleum industry, 7%; machinery, 6%; and other, 7%. The estimated value of apparent primary consumption was $2.70 billion.

U.S. Recycling: About 77,300 tons of nickel was recovered from purchased scrap in 2008. This represented about 38% of reported secondary plus apparent primary consumption for the year.

U.S. Import Sources(2004-07): Canada, 43%; Russia, 15%; Norway, 10%; Australia, 8%; and other, 24%.

U.S. Depletion Allowance: 22% (Domestic), 14% (Foreign).

U.S. Government Stockpile: The U.S. Government sold the last of the nickel in the National Defense Stockpile in 1999.The U.S. Department of Energy is holding 8,800 tons of nickel ingot contaminated by low-level radioactivity plus 5,100 tons of contaminated shredded nickel scrap. Planned decommissioning activities at former nuclear defense sites are expected to generate an additional 20,000 tons of nickel in shredded scrap.

Events, Trends, and Issues: Although slightly lower than that of 2007, world nickel mine production was at a relatively high level in 2008 despite the global financial crisis. Stainless steel accounted for two-thirds of primary nickel use, with more than one-half of the steel going into the construction, food processing, and transportation sectors. U.S. production of austenitic (nickel-bearing) stainless steel slipped to 1.35 million tons in 2007, 21% less than the record-high 1.71 million tons in 2006. China was the leading consumer of nickel, with an estimated apparent consumption of 348,000 tons in 2007. China produced 5.52 million tons of austenitic stainless steel in 2007, exceeding the combined output of Japan and the United States. Nickel prices peaked at unprecedented levels in mid-2007, but gradually declined during the next 18 months as the world economy weakened. In October 2008, the London Metal Exchange cash mean for 99.8%-pure nickel averaged $12,133 per metric ton ($5.50 per pound), down 61% from the mean in October 2007.

Declining metal prices, fears of recession, and the tightening of credit forced nickel producers to halt mining at less profitable operations and delay early stage development projects. Three world-class laterite mining complexes were in the final stages of commissioning. In early 2008, Australia’s leading nickel producer began ramping up production at its new $2.2 billion Ravensthorpe Mine, which is northwest of Esperance. Nickel and cobalt were being leached from the ore and converted onsite to a mixed hydroxide intermediate, which was then shipped to Yabulu, Queensland, for refining. The $3.2 billion laterite mining complex at Goro, New Caledonia, was scheduled to begin production of mixed hydroxide in early 2009. The New Caledonian nickel was being recovered onsite as an oxide using advanced pressure-acid-leach technology. Work was also underway on two traditional ferronickel plants in the Brazilian States of Goias and Para. The Onca Puma mining complex in Para State was scheduled to begin production of ferronickel in January 2009.

The credit crisis put severe financial pressures on motor vehicle manufacturers, causing them to reassess the post-2010 marketplace. Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries continue to be widely used in hybrid motor vehicles, despite inroads made by lithium-ion batteries. Sales in the United States of hybrid electric passenger vehicles have risen steadily to 350,000 in 2007 from 9,370 in 2000. Several automobile manufacturers were readying prototype plug-in hybrids or fully electric vehicles for commercial production. High prices for jet fuel encouraged major air carriers to order more fuel-efficient aircraft, increasing the demand for superalloys. The nuclear power industry was in the early stages of a renaissance because of high prices for natural gas. U.S. utilities were considering constructing 15 to 33 additional nuclear powerplants—facilities that would require sizeable amounts of austenitic stainless steel and other nickel-bearing alloys. Construction of new wind farms could require significant numbers of nickel-based batteries for energy storage and load leveling.

World Mine Production, Reserves, and Reserve Base: Estimates of the reserves and reserve base for Australia and Colombia, and for Spain (included in “Other countries”), were revised based on new mining industry information.

Mine Production

Reserves

Reserve Base

2007

2008 (e)

United States

----

-----

-----

150,000

Australia

161,000

180,000

26,000,000

29,000,000

Botswana

38,000

36,000

490,000

920,000

Brazil

75,300

75,600

4,500,000

8,300,000

Canada

255,000

250,000

4,900,000

15,000,000

China

85,000

85,000

1,100,000

7,600,000

Colombia

101,000

74,900

1,400,000

2,700,000

Cuba

75,000

77,000

5,600,000

23,000,000

Dominican Republic

47,100

47,000

720,000

1,000,000

Greece

21,200

20,100

490,000

900,000

Indonesia

229,000

211,000

3,200,000

13,000,000

New Calidonia(1)

125,000

92,600

7,100,000

15,000,000

Philippines

79,500

88,400

940,000

5,200,000

Russia

280,000

276,000

6,600,000

9,200,000

South Africa

37,900

38,000

3,700,000

12,000,000

Venezuela

20,000

20,000

560,000

630,000

Zimbabwe

7,120

6,530

15,000

260,000

Other Countries

27,700

28,600

2,200,000

6,100,000

World Total (rounded)

1,660,000

1,610,000

70,000,000

150,000,000

World Resources: Identified land-based resources averaging 1% nickel or greater contain at least 130 million tons of nickel. About 60% is in laterites and 40% in sulfide deposits. In addition, extensive deep-sea resources of nickel are in manganese crusts and nodules covering large areas of the ocean floor, particularly in the Pacific Ocean.

Substitutes: To offset high nickel prices, engineers have begun substituting low-nickel, duplex, or ultrahighchromium stainless steels for austenitic grades in a few construction applications. Nickel-free specialty steels are sometimes used in place of stainless steel within the power generating and petrochemical industries. Titanium alloys or specialty plastics can substitute for nickel metal or nickel-base alloys in highly corrosive chemical environments. Cost savings in manufacturing lithium ion batteries allow them to compete against NiMH in certain applications.

(e) Estimated Withheld to avoid disclosing company proprietary data. — Zero
(1) Overseas territory of France


U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2009

 
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