Nickel is a metal which is mainly used as an alloying element of stainless steel, major ingredient of brass, and for electroplating. Nickel is also used together with lanthanum in the nickel metal hydrid (NiMH) battery. Nickel is highly resistant to corrosion and is widely used to create corrosion resistant alloys and is also used heavily in the electroplating process. Nickel is used with Chromium to create Nichrome, which has a high melting point and is used for the efficient conversion of electricity to heat. Annual world production was 1.4 million tonnes in 2007.
Nickel deposits are classified as either sulfide or laterite deposits. Economical viable laterite deposits are huge but with lower concentration of the ore in comparison with sulfide deposits. The primary ore associated with sulfide deposits is Millerite. Biggest producers are
Nickel prices are reacting significant to over or undersupply of the markets with the metal. Prices peaked at more than 50,000 USD/tonne in March 2007 and subsequently declined to less than 10,000 USD/tonne in February 2009. Unprofitable mines were closed as a consequence and one of those was the new Ravensthorpe laterite mine in Australia (BHP) which was supposed to produce 50,000 tpa after full rampup.
Usage of stainless steel is increasing with the growth of the economies. Average growth rate for stainless steel production in the BRIC countries was 26.3% during the years 2001-2008.
High nickel prices initiated a switch to 200-series steels. This type of steels have 3.5-6% nickel content rather than 8-10.5% in 300-series steels.
A further reaction to the high nickel prices in 2007 was the use of low grade nickel ore to create nickel pig iron as a substitute for refined nickel in China. This process is not sustainable if nickel prices are below 24,000 USD per tonne.