National Minerals Information Center

Nickel Statistics and Information

Nickel (Ni) is a transition element that exhibits a mixture of ferrous and nonferrous metal properties.   It is both siderophile (i.e., associates with iron) and chalcophile (i.e., associates with sulfur).   The bulk of the nickel mined comes from two types of ore deposits:

  • laterites where the principal ore minerals are nickeliferous limonite [(Fe,Ni)O(OH)] and garnierite (a hydrous nickel silicate), or
  • magmatic sulfide deposits where the principal ore mineral is pentlandite [(Ni,Fe)9S8].

The ionic radius of divalent nickel is close to that of divalent iron and magnesium, allowing the three elements to substitute for one another in the crystal lattices of some silicates and oxides.   Nickel sulfide deposits are generally associated with iron- and magnesium-rich rocks called ultramafics and can be found in both volcanic and plutonic settings.   Many of the sulfide deposits occur at great depth.  Laterites are formed by the weathering of ultramafic rocks and are a near-surface phenomenon.   Most of the nickel on Earth is believed to be concentrated in the planet's core.

Nickel is primarily sold for first use as refined metal (cathode, powder, briquet, etc.) or ferronickel.   About 65% of the nickel consumed in the Western World is used to make austenitic stainless steel.  Another 12% goes into superalloys (e.g., Inconel 600) or nonferrous alloys (e.g., cupronickel).  Both families of alloys are widely used because of their corrosion resistance.   The aerospace industry is a leading consumer of nickel-base superalloys.  Turbine blades, discs and other critical parts of jet engines are fabricated from superalloys.  Nickel-base superalloys are also used in land-based combustion turbines, such those found at electric power generation stations.  The remaining 23% of consumption is divided between alloy steels, rechargeable batteries, catalysts and other chemicals, coinage, foundry products, and plating.  The principal commercial chemicals are the carbonate (NiCO3), chloride (NiCl2), divalent oxide (NiO), and sulfate (NiSO4).   In aqueous solution, the divalent nickel ion has an emerald-green color.

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Other Sources of Information

  • Chemical Industry Applications of Industrial Minerals and Metals. Bureau of Mines Special Publication, 1993, 158 pp.

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Michele McRae

USGS Mineral Commodity Specialist
USGS Mineral Commodity Specialist
Phone: 703-648-7743