Nickel Mining Industry

Most global nickel production is sourced from magmatic sulphide and lateritic nickel deposits.  Nickel is mined in approximately 20 countries and across all continents. Approximately 2.5 million tonnes of primary nickel are produced and consumed each year, based on 2020 figures. Nickel is also smelted and refined in approximately 25 countries.

Primary nickel is produced and used in the form of ferro-nickel, nickel oxides and other chemicals. Nickel is also recycled in many of its applications, and this is a material source of supply.

Nickel’s key characteristics include a high melting point, relatively low thermal and electrical conductivities, high resistance to corrosion and oxidation, excellent strength and toughness at elevated temperatures and the ability to readily alloy with other metals. In 2020, more than 70% of primary nickel was used in stainless steel production and approximately 10% was used in other steel and non-ferrous (including “super”) alloys. Over 6% was used in batteries with the remainder in other applications.

Nickel demand has increased over time and is correlated with economic development. Global nickel demand increased ~112% from 2000 to 2020. This was mostly driven by Chinese demand, which accounts for ~82% of global demand.

The last 10 years have been characterized by imbalances within the primary nickel market, with oversupply being driven by the increased contribution of swing production from nickel pig iron. Nickel was in deficit from 2016 to 2019, demonstrating the industry’s inelastic response to demand side and upward price pressure.

Nickel’s specific properties will play a key role in global de-carbonization, particularly in the build-out of electric vehicles and energy storage applications. Total nickel demand is forecastto grow by ~167% by 2040, with electric vehicle driven nickel demand forecast to increase ~41x by 2040. The percentage of total nickel demand used in “clean technologies” is also forecast1 to grow from 8% in 2020 to 61% in 2040. Wood Mackenzie1 forecasts a nickel deficit by 2025 due to the paucity of new discoveries, creating material deficit in Class 1 nickel supply, which is key for production of high nickel batteries.


This section was prepared using information derived from publications by the Nickel Institute, the International Nickel Study Group (INSG), the International Energy Agency and Wood Mackenzie, including “Nickel and copper: building blocks for a greener future”, published by Wood Mackenzie, April 4, 2022.