Mining has progressed from near-primitive ways to a highly advanced, technology-based approach that has allowed us to exponentially increase nickel production. Compact mining equipment that’s cost-effective and stands up to the test of time has positively impacted mining efficiency and production. One of the many benefits of this progress is the reduction of waste and dangerous chemicals.
Nickel mining is still relatively young compared to other mined resources. Nickel was first discovered in a red-colored ore that German miners mistook for copper in the 17th century. They named the material “kupfernickel,” which means “Old Nick’s Copper” or “false copper”. The true value of nickel was not appreciated until approximately 200 years later. Nickel is used in alloys to give other metals the hardness, strength, and corrosion resistance they require. Nickel has become one of the most valuable mined commodities in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, making nickel mining a significant business.
The Basics of Nickel Mining and Processing
Nickel is a vital component of our lives when it comes to metals. We utilize nickel more often than we know, from everyday living to high-volume businesses. Which emphasizes the significance of nickel mining and its impact on everyday life.
What Is Nickel Used For?
In 2011, alloys such as stainless steel and superalloys consumed around 80% of the primary (non-recycled) nickel consumed in the United States. Equipment and parts made of nickel-bearing alloys are frequently used in harsh environments, such as chemical plants, petroleum refineries, jet engines, power generation facilities, and offshore installations, because nickel increases an alloy’s corrosion resistance and ability to withstand extreme temperatures. Stainless steel is commonly used in medical equipment, cookware, and cutlery because it is easy to clean and sterilize. Except for the penny, all circulating coins in the United States are made of nickel-based alloys. Rechargeable batteries for portable computers, power tools, and hybrid and electric cars are increasingly made with nickel alloys. Nickel is also plated on goods like bathroom fixtures to prevent corrosion and give them a nice look.
Full uses include:
- making steel
- super alloys and alloys
- stainless steel products
- rechargeable batteries
- alnico magnets
- green-tinted glass
- electric guitar strings
- as a binder in tungsten carbide
- nickel foam and nickel mesh
Where Does Nickel Mining Occur?
Indonesia is the world’s leading nickel producer, followed by the Philippines. The metal’s stockpiles are believed to be 94 million tonnes worldwide, with Indonesia and Australia owning the world’s greatest nickel reserves.
Metallic nodules found in the greater depths of the ocean are also thought to contain significant nickel resources, estimated to be worth over 290 million tons. Only the future development of deep-sea mining technologies will allow access to these.
More than 1.4 million tons of primary or new nickel is produced worldwide. This compares to 800 million tons of steel and 10 million tons of copper.
The Nickel Mining Process
It’s not unexpected that the mining processes for nickel differ because nickel is found in two quite different forms of ore. Although some deposits were mined using open pits in the early phases, sulfide deposits are mainly mined using underground techniques similar to copper. Laterite mining is essentially an earth-moving activity, with big shovels, draglines, or front-end loaders excavating nickel-rich strata and dumping large boulders and debris.
Nickel extraction from ore follows a similar path to copper extraction, and in some circumstances, similar procedures and equipment are employed. The use of higher-temperature refractories and the greater cooling necessary to accommodate the higher operating temperatures in nickel production are the most significant variations in equipment. Whether the ore is a sulfide or a laterite, the procedures used are different. In the case of sulfides, a portion of the heat required for smelting comes from the reaction of oxygen with iron and sulfur in the ore. On the other hand, oxide ores do not yield the same reaction temperatures, necessitating the use of energy from other sources for smelting.
Nickel matte remains after the mining and processing of either lateritic or sulfidic ore. Using the fluid bed roasting procedure, a 95 percent pure nickel can be achieved after additional refinement.
Electric cells provide for a more efficient refining process. The remaining impurities are removed from the nickel using electrical cells with inert cathodes, resulting in a high-quality nickel. This kind of refinement is gradually becoming the industry norm.
See our complete mining series: