Nickel is a chemical element with symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge.
It belongs to the transition metals category and it is hard and malleable. The metal is extracted from its ores by heating and reducing the ore.
Nickel-containing materials play a major role in our everyday lives – from food preparation equipment through to mobile phones, medical equipment and transport, buildings and power generation.
Australia’s share of world economic resources of nickel was 23 per cent in 2014. The Philippines is the world’s largest nickel-producer, closely followed by Russia, Canada and Australia.
Here are nickel’s top three important uses:
- Mix and match: More than 80 per cent of nickel production is used in alloys. There are up to 3000 nickel-containing alloys in everyday use. About 90 per cent of all new nickel sold each year goes into alloys, with two-thirds going into stainless-steel manufacturing. When alloyed with other elements, nickel imparts significant toughness, strength, resistance to corrosion and various electrical, magnetic and heat-resistant properties. Stainless steel, in turn, is used widely in the chemical and construction industries, motor vehicles and in consumer products such as sinks, cooking utensils, cutlery and whitegoods.
- Power metal: Nickel is a vital part of several rechargeable battery systems used in electronics, power tools, transport and emergency power supply. Most important today are nickel-metal hydride (NiMH). Iron and nickel alloys are the most widely used in electronics and specialist engineering. And nickel is also a key ingredient in many catalysts used to make chemical reactions more efficient. Talk about power! Nickel is also used in mobile-phone electrical connections, capacitors and batteries.
- Money talks: Today, copper-nickel alloys are popularly used for coinage, with nickel itself having a long and illustrious history of being utilised in US coins. The US five-cent piece (known as a ‘nickel’) is 25 per cent nickel and 75 per cent copper. However, due to the metal being a skin allergen for some people and the fact that today cheaper metals are available, the element is no longer as widely used in coinage. The initial design of the US Shield Nickel was struck from 1866-1883, but was then replaced by the Liberty Head nickel. The Buffalo Nickel was introduced in 1913 as part of a drive to increase the beauty of American coinage; in 1938, the Jefferson Nickel followed. In 2004 and 2005, special designs in honour of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition – the first American voyage to cross what is now the western portion of the United States – were issued.