The saying that, ‘there are about 3,000 nickel-containing alloys in everyday use’, isn’t just a sentence but a fact. Nickels, are not just one of earth’s oldest resources, but they are one of the most versatile metals found on earth today. After Iron, Nickel is the second most abudant element in earth’s inner core. It is also the fifth most most abundant element on earth. Little wonder why it is almost impossible to exhist without using a this wonderful element.
The discovery of nickel can be traced as far back as 3500 BC to Syrians and also the Chinese in 235 BC, who minted coin from nickel. However, it was the 17th century Germans, who mined nickel for the first time. The German miners who were in search of copper in the Ore Mountains, had mistaken nickel for copper, no thanks to the pale brownish-red colour. Attempts to extract the copper ore proved abortive, as the rocks failed to produce. The miners who were frustrated at their experience, blamed Nickel, a mischievous demon in German mythology for their failure and so dubbed it,’ Kupfernickel’, meaning “Old Nick’s copper” or “False copper.”
In 1751, all the myth around nickel changed, as Swedish mineralogist and chemist, Baron Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, while working as a mining expert with the Bureau of Mines successfully extracted nickel and isolate it as a new element. After making the announcement, that he had found a new element, he named it, ‘nickel’, shortened from the German, Kupfernickel.
Since then, the nickel industry failed to make much progress until 1848, when Norway started mining nickel ore known as pyrrhotite, thus becoming the world’s first large scale nickel smelting site. A larger deposits of nickel would be discovered in the Sudbury Basin, now Murray Mine site in Ontario, Canada in 1883. This large concentration of nickel and copper ore was discovered while construction workers were moving earth to pave way for a new rail way and till this day, this is the location where the largest nickel mining site is found. About 30 percent of the world’s nickel is mined in Sudbury alone, accounting for approximately 1.7 billion tonnes, with 40 billion pounds of nickel mined in this site alone.
Further discovery of nickel was later achieved in the early 1900s, in Russia and South Africa.
As a transition element, Nickel, exhibits a mixture of ferrous, which means it contains iron and nonferrous, meaning that it contains metal but without iron. Nonferrous metals are easily malleable because they are softer; Also, Nickel is both siderophile, which means it associates with iron and also chalcophile, associating with sulfur.
There are two types of ore deposits from which nickel is mined:
(i) Laterites and (ii) Magmatic Sulfide
More so, the process of making pure nickel is common in metallurgy, which is the process of mixing two or more metals togerther. Almost all nickel ores contain nickel sulfide (NiS). To achieve these, the ores are heated in air (roasted). This process coverts the nickel sulfide to nickel oxide, which is then treated with a chemical that to get rid of the oxygen from the nickel.
So, What Makes Nickel Special?
Sitting in number 28 on the perioidic table of the element with atomic symbol Ni, Nickel is arguably the most valuable mined material in the 20th and 21st centuries. Thanks to its many uses, nickel can be used in the production of stainless steel, a solid material which does not rust easily, as well as in the production of hundreds of industrial and consumer applications. Nickels are also great in producing alloys, which is achieved by melting the alloy and mixing with two or more metals. This gives properties different from those of individual metal.
Fun Facts About Nickel And Uses
Making Alloy: 80% of nickel mined in the United State of America today is used to make alloy, which are then used to make various household items made from stainless steels. Examples includes but not limited to, coffee makers, toasters, cutlery, pots and pans, kitchen sink tops and stoves.
They are also used to make medical equipment such as X-ray machines. Also, it is used to make heavy machinery as well as large containers.
Stainless steels: Gotten from nickel, stainless steel is a great fit for sculpture, as it does not rust easily. Also, it is important to the food and beverage, petroleum, chemical, pharmaceutical (drug), pulp and paper, and textile industries
Superalloys: Nickel is used to make the superalloys used in manufacturing parts for jet engines, turbine blades, boat propeller and gas turbines, this is because superalloys are resistant to corrosion and retain their properties, even at high temperature.
Batteries: The Nickel-cadmium (nicad) and nickel-metal hydride batteries are made from nickel. These rechargeable batteries serve a variety of purpose, in appliances such as hand-held power tools, compact disc players, pocket recorders, camcorders, cordless and cellular telephones, scanner radios, and even laptop computers.
Electroplating/Coating: Because of it anti-corrosive nature, nickel is used in electroplating, a process by which a thin layer of one metal is used to cover a second metal.
Catalyst: Nickel is used a catalyst in several important reactions, for example, the hydrogenation of vegetable oils, reforming of hydrocarbons, and the production of fertilizers, pesticides, as well as fungicides.
Eye-Glass Frames: Because of its ability to bounce back into shape after being bent, a unique nickel-titanium alloys, known as “shape memory alloys”, are used to make some eyeglass frames.
Beer kegs: Beer kegs made from nickel-bearing stainless steel, are the best, as they can be used for up to 30 or more years.
Biology: Though nickel can be hazardous to man’s health, when inhaled, it can cause cancer and also, some people allergic to contact with nickel. Nickel can also affect the growth of plants. This does not mean it is totally harnful to man and plant, as it has been shown to be essential to some species of plant.
Some diets also contain some of form nickel, as an essential element for some beans, such as the navy bean that is used for baked beans. This is so, because they have the ability of bouncing back into shape after being bent
Artworks: Artists sometimes use stainless steel in sculpture because it does not rust easily.
Tinted Glass: Many of the tints in glass of cars are made from nickel.
Coin: If your intention is to save your money in coin, then you have made a great decision, as coins coated or made from nickel, have a longer life span. An example is the 5-cent coins (“nickels”) in the United States Mint. It contains 25 percent nickel and 75 percent copper.
Magnetic: Nickel is another popular magnetic metal with magnetic properties. It is part of Alnico magnets (magnets made from aluminium, nickel, and cobalt). It is however, good to note that these magnets are stronger than rare-earth metal magnets but weaker than iron-based magnets.
Desalination Plants: The conversion of seawater into fresh water in desalination plants, is made possible by a copper-nickel alloy.
Military Uses Of Nickel
Nickel in various forms are used by the military to build Aircraft Carrier and Submarine nuclear power systems as well as for aircraft turbines engines.
Nickel when combined with coper and lead, is used to produce military gear and body armor that can withstand impact and degeneration.
More so, due to its special weather resistance ability, stainless steel is it very useful in items such as firearm gas tubes, dog tags and mess kits.
Some of the other stainless steel alloys available to the military for defence industry application, includes, stainless steel alloys 15-5, 17-4, 17-7 and A-286, nickel-based alloys 625, 718, HX, 230 and X-750, and super alloys 188 and Rene 41.
Countries Where Nickel Mining Occur
According to statistics, the total global nickel reserves as of 2019, amounted to approximately 89 million metric tons. However, of that amount, Indonesia held the world’s largest reserve, at 21 million metric tons. Following Indonesia closely is Australia, with nickel reserves of 20 million metric ton and the Brazil.
Despite having the second largest nickel reserve, Australia comes fifth as the world’s largest nickel producer.
See list below:
4. New Caledonia
10. United States of America
13. South Africa
Grades of Nickel
There are three standard grades of pure Nickel available
This is the most widely used standard grades of commercially available pure wrought Nickel alongside Nickel 201. These two when combined, offer good thermal conductivity, resistance against many corrosive environments, particularly against caustic alkalis, low electrical resistivity, and good magnetostrictive properties.
Slightly different from Nichel 200, it has a very low work hardening rate, which allows it to be easily cold formed. Nichel 201 is also preferred over Nichel 200 for applications that experience temperatures over 600°F (315°C).
This is used for applications similar to those of Nichel 200, but mostly where higher purity and conductivity are required.
Nickel 200 and 201 alloys are used as leads for electrical & electronic components & as lead-in-wire components for lamps. They are used in making wire mesh & filters for chemical & petrochemical industry.
They are also used in Ni-Cd batteries, for welding overlay, and for making flux cored wires for welding applications.
Nichel 205 on the other hand is used for transistor housings, lead wires, anodes for electronic valves, and for making wire mesh and filters for chemical and petrochemical industry.
Types of Nickel Alloys
TYPE Common Uses
Pure Nickel (Ni) Caustic Service, Alkalis
Nickel-Copper (Ni-Cu) Reducing Acids
Nickel-Molybdenum (Ni-Mo) Reducing Acids
Nickel-Iron-Chromium (Ni-Fe-Cr) Oxidizing Acids
Nickel-Chromium-Silicon (Ni-Cr-Si) Super Oxidizing Acids (Concentrated Sulfuric)
Nickel-Chromium-Molybdenum (Ni-Cr-Mo) Most Versatile Alloys