Nickel

Throughout the Middle Ages miners in Germany occasionally found a brownish-red ore, which they called kupfernickel, after Nick, a spirit that haunted mines. The Swedish scientist Cronstedt managed to isolate the metal in 1751 and named it nickel.

Nickel only began to arouse real interest when the USA started to use a Cu-Ni alloy for its coins. Around the end of the 19th century, nickel found its way into the shipbuilding and armour plating professions. Its use also grew steadily in the development of stainless steels, which currently accounts for more than 60% of nickel consumption.

Properties

  • A silver-grey metal that is hard, tough, malleable and ductile.
  • Ferromagnetic (Curie point, 353°C).
  • Its electrical conductivity is about one-sixth of that of copper.
  • Nickel is a carrier metal for platinum group metals.

Applications

  • By far the largest application of nickel is in austenitic stainless steels, which are used in the chemical industry, mechanical construction, architecture (for internal and external applications) and household equipment (cutlery, sinks, pans, etc.).
  • Thin nickel layers are also used for decorative or anti-corrosion purposes, or as a substrate for a thin layer of chromium (e.g. in taps, cocks and fittings) or gold (in jewellery and electronics).
  • Nickel-containing cupro-aluminiums exhibit excellent resistance to corrosion in seawater and are used to make propellers, pumps, sluice gates, etc.
  • Nickel is used as an active material in NiCd, NiMH and Li-ion rechargeable batteries.


Recycling

Most nickel recycling is done directly by the steel industry. It is usual practice for special alloys to be recycled as the same special alloy wherever possible: the stringent specifications and the cost of achieving them in the first place can justify them having their own closed loops. Processes now exist for recycling nickel from spent rechargeable batteries.

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