Finding & Producing Nickel

Nickel is the 5th most common element (after iron, oxygen, silicon and magnesium) that makes up the Earth and 13th most common element in the crust, that part of the Earth where mining is feasible. Nickel is very widely distributed in the crust (an average of 75 parts per million) and found in more than 200 different minerals. Few of these, however, contain nickel in concentrations that make extraction economically or environmentally attractive.

Reserves of nickel are sufficient for decades and exploration is finding additional deposits for possible future development.

Of increasing significance is the reserve (the "stock") of nickel that exists in society and that over time becomes available for recovery and recycling. This stock of nickel is constantly increasing and is accounting for a growing percentage of the total nickel used by society. The percentages vary from year to year but, for example, 40 to 50% of the nickel in stainless steels is nickel from secondary (i.e., post-industrial or post-consumer) sources and this percentage is increasing.

Key Sustainability Challenges:

  • To progressively reduce the energy and material requirements required per unit of nickel produced;
  • To ensure health and environmental impacts on workers, the surrounding communities and supporting ecosystems are avoided or minimized; and
  • To ensure that appropriate benefits and investments flow back to communities to avoid or minimize the dislocations that can occur when mining operations come to an end.

There are many sources of information on nickel geology and nickel production, of which these are just a sample: