Nickel Rock File

Minerals Downunder | Rock Files | Fact Sheets


Nickel is not as well known as other metals, but it plays an important, if invisible role in modern life. It has some very useful properties, and when it is mixed with other metals it helps create amazing alloys that are strong, won't rust, can withstand high and low temperatures, and can be easily shaped into anything from thin wires to flat sheets. For example, nickel is one of the metals added to iron to make stainless steel - an extremely useful product! And if you have ever wondered why a 20 cent coin is more silver-white in colour than a $1 coin, it is due to the relative amounts of nickel.

The stainless steel in these saucepans contains nickel


  • Nickel is a silver-white metal.
  • Nickel is hard.
  • Nickel has a high melting point.
  • Nickel can also withstand very low temperatures.
  • Nickel is rarely found in the earth in its pure form.
  • Nickel mixes well with other metals to make many useful alloys.
  • Nickel is malleable and ductile (can be beaten and drawn out into a wire)
  • Nickel is rust-resistant
  • Nickel is magnetic, although not as strongly as iron.
  • Nickel's name comes from the Saxon term 'Kupfernickel' or Devils' Copper, as the 15th century miners thought the ore looked red-brown like copper, and that it was too difficult to mine, and was poisoning them (actually it was arsenic doing this!). Its symbol is Ni.





More than 80% of nickel is used to make alloys, as nickel adds toughness, strength, rust resistance and various other electrical, magnetic and heat resistant properties. At least 3000 nickel alloys have been created, including stainless steel. These alloys are used for many purposes such as in construction, the chemical industry, cars (crank-shafts and axles), household products (kitchen sinks, cooking utensils, washing machines etc), propeller shafts, scientific and surgical equipment, pipelines and aircraft engines.


Nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries, used to power mobile phones, radios, clocks and calculators.


Nickel was first used for coinage in Belgium in 1860, and has been widely used since then. Australian $1 and $2 coins contain 2% nickel (with 92% copper and 6% aluminium), and our 5c, 10c, 20c and 50c coins contain 25% nickel (with 75% copper).


To electroplate steel or brass articles - such as office furniture, bathroom fittings and motor cycles - giving them a hard, shiny surface which resists tarnishing (usually then covered with a thin chromium topcoat).

Production of soaps and margarine (by assisting in converting natural oils to solids).

In some jewellery.

Artificial hips and knees.

Kidney dialysis.

Electrical contacts and components.



Australia (mostly Western Australia but also Queensland) is one of the world's major nickel producers. In 1897, nickel was discovered, but it was 1966 before an orebody of nickel sulphide large enough to mine was found at Kambalda, 50 kilometres south of Kalgoorlie. Nickel is mined by open-pit or underground methods, then the rock is crushed and ground up, and the nickel sulphide ore is separated from the waste rock using froth flotation. At a refinery, the ore is then heated and treated with various chemicals to separate out the nickel.

Nickel briquettes the final product of processing nickel ore

Amazing Facts

  • Earth's magnetic field is due to the iron and nickel in its core.
  • The ancient Chinese used nickel alloys, calling them 'paktong'.
  • It was 1751 before nickel was first isolated, by a Swedish chemist, Alex Cronstedt.
  • In the 19th century, nickel was popular for making items such as cutlery. However, it was in 1889 that James Riley gave an historic speech to the Iron and Steel Institute of Great Britain, declaring that tests had shown that a steel containing nickel gave the alloy almost unbelievable strength. From then on, nickel alloy steels became vital materials for a whole range of uses.
  • There was an especially big demand for nickel in the two World Wars, for making armour plate for vehicles.
  • Lockheed Missiles and Space Company Inc. have made a test chamber in California to replicate the cold vacuum (low pressure) and solar heat of outer space. It is made from 372 tonnes of nickel-containing stainless steel.

Operating Nickel Mines

Operating Nickel Mines of Australia

This image is taken from the Australian Mines Atlas, and is accurate as at March 26, 2008


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