Nickel is a naturally occurring, lustrous, silvery-white metallic element. Pure nickel reacts with oxygen and, therefore, is seldom found on the earth’s surface, despite being the fifth most abundant element on (and in) our planet. Nickel is widely used to produce a range of products for consumer, industrial, military, transport, aerospace, marine and architectural applications. In fact, according to the Nickel Institute, the metal is used in over 300,000 different products. Nickel is essential for healthy plant life. As a result, it is found naturally in most vegetables, fruits and nuts, and in the food products derived from them, for example – chocolate and wine.
In combination with iron, nickel is extremely stable, which explains both its occurrence in iron-containing ores and its effective use in combination with iron to make stainless steel.
Nickel is very strong and resistant to corrosion, making it excellent for strengthening metal alloys, particularly combined with chromium and other metals to produce stainless and heat-resisting steels. These are used for kitchen utensils, food processing and medical equipment, for building and construction and chemical plants. It is also used for highly specialized industrial, aerospace and military applications. In many of these applications there is no substitute for nickel without reducing performance or increasing cost. It is also very ductile and malleable, properties that allow its many alloys to be shaped into wire, rods, tubes, and sheets.
At present, only a small percentage of nickel is produced from recycled materials.