What is Nickel? – Its Alloys, Properties, and Uses

What is Nickel?

Nickel, with the symbol Ni and the atomic number 28, is a chemical element. Nickel is a silvery-white, brilliant metallic element that occurs naturally. It is the sixth most prevalent element on the planet and is abundant in the crust and core. Nickel, like iron, is a common element in meteorites and is also found in trace amounts in plants, animals, and oceans.

Despite being the fifth most prevalent element on (and in) our planet, pure nickel reacts with oxygen and is thus rarely found on the surface. Nickel is particularly stable when combined with iron, which explains its presence in iron-bearing ores and its practical use in stainless steel production.

Nickel is extremely strong and corrosion-resistant, making it ideal for reinforcing metal alloys. It’s also ductile and malleable, which means its numerous alloys may be formed into wire, rods, tubes, and sheets.

What is Nickel

History of Nickel

In 1751, Baron Axel Fredrik Cronstedt isolated pure nickel for the first time, but it had been known for a long time. Chinese texts from circa 1500BC mention ‘white copper,’ which was almost certainly a nickel-silver alloy.

The metal was dubbed kupfernickel, ‘the devil’s copper,’ by fifteenth-century German miners who believed they could extract copper from nickel ores in Saxony. Due to their futile attempts to extract copper from the ore and likely due to the health effects caused by the ore’s high arsenic content.

James Riley gave a talk to the Iron and Steel Institute of Great Britain in 1889 about how nickel may be used to improve traditional steel. Riley’s talk sparked interest in nickel’s good alloying qualities, and it also corresponded with the discovery of huge nickel reserves in New Caledonia and Canada.

In the early twentieth century, the discovery of ore resources in Russia and South Africa made large-scale nickel production viable. World War I and World War II soon followed, resulting in major increases in steel consumption and, as a result, nickels demand.

Alloys of Nickel

Most metals, including copper, chromium, iron, and molybdenum, will easily alloy with nickel. The addition of nickel to other metals changes the properties of the alloy, which can be utilized to achieve desirable attributes like improved corrosion or oxidation resistance, increased high-temperature performance, or reduced coefficients of thermal expansion.

Following are the alloys of nickel:

1. Nickel-Iron Alloys

Nickel-iron alloys are used in applications where a low thermal expansion rate is desirable. The coefficient of thermal expansion of Invar is about a tenth of that of carbon steel.

Nickel-iron alloys are helpful in precise measurement equipment and thermostat rods because of their high dimensional stability. Other nickel-iron alloys with a higher nickel percentage are used in soft-magnetic applications such as transformers, inductors, and memory storage devices.

2. Nickel-Copper Alloys

Nickel-Copper Alloys are nickel-base alloys with a substantial alloying element of copper (Cu) of 29-33 percent. Mono-phase solid solution of copper and nickel. Heat-treatable nickel-copper alloys with 3% aluminum (Al) and 0.6 percent titanium (Ti) as additional alloying elements can be enhanced by precipitation hardening.

Nickel-Copper Alloys have excellent acid and alkali corrosion resistance, high mechanical strength, good flexibility, and a low coefficient of thermal expansion. The alloys have low machinability. Chemical processing equipment, valve stems, springs, pumps, shafts, fittings, heat exchangers, screw machine products, and marine equipment use nickel-copper alloys.

3. Nickel-Chromium Alloys

Corrosion resistance, high-temperature strength, and electrical resistance are desirable properties of nickel-chromium alloys. NiCr 70/30, for example, has a melting point of 1380oC and an electrical resistivity of 1.18-m. Nikrothal 70, Resistohm 70, and X30H70. Nickel-chromium alloys are heating elements in toasters and other electrical resistance warmers. 

4. Nickel-Molybdenum Alloys

Nickel-molybdenum alloys are chemically resistant to strong acids and other reducers such as hydrochloric acid, hydrogen chloride, sulfuric acid, and phosphoric acid. An alloy, such as Alloy B-2, has a molybdenum concentration of 29-30% and a nickel concentration of 66-74 percent in its chemical makeup. Applications include pumps and valves, gaskets, pressure vessels, heat exchangers, and pipe work.

5. Nickel-Chromium-Iron Alloys

Nickel-chromium-iron alloys combine these elements to generate alloys that resist oxidation and high-temperature corrosion. Alloy 800, also known as Incoloy 800, Ferrochronin 800, Nickelvac 800, and Nicrofer 3220, is used in furnace components such as petrochemical furnace cracker tubes and as a sheathing material for electrical heating elements. 

These alloys are also prized for their high-temperature creep and rupture properties. These alloys are typically 30-35 percent nickel, 19-23 percent chrome, and a minimum of 39.5 percent iron. Due to their high iron concentration, these alloys have been categorized as stainless steel.

6. Nickel-Chromium-Cobalt Alloys

Nickel alloys with chromium and molybdenum are added to increase creep rupture strength. Alloy 617, for example, has a composition of 20-24 percent chromium, 10-15 percent cobalt, and 8-10 percent molybdenum, with a minimum nickel concentration of 44.5 percent supplied under the brand names Inconel 617 and Nicole 617.

Industrial furnace components, gas turbines, nitric acid catalyst grid supports, and fossil fuel production facilities require these alloys.

7. Nickel-Chromium-Molybdenum Alloys

Alloy C-276 (N10276) is the most well-known of these corrosion-resistant alloys. They have a high resistance to reducing acids like hydrochloric and sulphuric acid. Several variations based on this composition have changed the Cr and Mo amounts and, in some cases, added Cu or W to increase corrosion resistance in more oxidizing or reducing environments. Alloy C-22 (N06022), Alloy 59 (N08059), Alloy C-2000 (UNS N06200), and Alloy 686 (N06686) are some of the alloys available.

8. Nickel-Titanium Alloys

Shape retention and shape memory qualities are seen in nickel-titanium alloys. By making a shape out of this alloy at a higher temperature and then deforming it from that produced shape at a lower temperature, the alloy will remember its original shape and reform it when heated to this so-called transition temperature. 

The transition temperature can be changed by manipulating the alloy’s composition. These alloys have a super elastic feature that can be used as a shock absorber for stone constructions, among other things.

Ores of Nickel

1. Sulfides

Sulfides containing nickel, copper, and iron are found in Canadian ores. Pentlandite (Ni, Fe)9S8  is the most important nickel mineral, followed by pyrrhotite (FeS to Fe7S8), in which some of the iron is replaced by nickel. The primary copper mineral in these ores is chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) and cubanite (CuFe2S3).

There is also some gold, silver, and the six platinum-group metals, and their recovery is crucial. Cobalt, selenium, tellurium, and sulfur can all be extracted from ores.

2. Laterites

Laterites are ore that forms due to peridotite weathering with a minor fraction of nickel. In subtropical climates, weathering eliminates most of the host rock, but the contained nickel dissolves and percolates downstream, potentially reaching a high concentration to make mining profitable. 

Manufacturing of Nickel

Nickel is recovered principally from the nickel sulfides pentlandite, pyrrhotite, and millerite, containing approximately 1% nickel, and the iron-bearing lateritic ores limonite and garnierite, which contain around 4% nickel.

The nickel separation process is largely dependent on the ore type. Nickel sulfides, such as those found in the Canadian Shield and Siberia, are typically found deep below, making extraction difficult and costly.

However, the separation method for these ores is significantly less expensive than for lateritic ores like those found in New Caledonia. Furthermore, nickel sulfides frequently contain impurities of other precious elements that can be extracted economically.

Nickel matte and nickel oxide can be made from sulfide ores by froth flotation, hydrometallurgical, or magnetic methods. The Sherritt-Gordon Treat is routinely used to process further these intermediate products, which typically contain 40-70 percent nickel.

The Mond (or Carbonyl) Process is the most popular and efficient technique for treating nickel sulfide is the Mond (or Carbonyl) Process. The sulfide is treated with hydrogen and fed into a volatilization kiln in this procedure. At around 60 0C, it reacts with carbon monoxide to generate nickel carbonyl gas. 

The nickel carbonyl gas decomposes on the surface of pre-heated nickel pellets that circulate through a heat chamber until they reach the necessary size. This procedure can be used to make nickel powder at greater temperatures.

Because of their high iron content, lateritic ores are frequently smelted using pro metallic techniques. Because lateritic ores have high moisture content (35-40%), they must be dried in a rotary kiln furnace. It generates nickel oxide, which is reduced in electric furnaces at temperatures ranging from (1360 0C -1610 0C and volatilized to produce Class I nickel metal and nickel sulfate.

Properties of Nickel

  • Nickel is ferromagnetic, meaning it magnetizes easily at ambient temperature. 
  • It is both malleable and ductile.
  • Nickel has an atomic number of 28.
  • Nickel’s resistance to heat, oxidation, and corrosion is one of its finest qualities.
  • It is silver-white with a golden color.
  • Nickel has a melting point of 1555°C, and a boiling temperature of about 2835°C nickel reacts with oxygen in its pure state.

Uses of Nickel

This natural element is now used in various applications, making it one of the most important metals. Some of the nickel’s important uses are listed below:

  • Stainless steel uses over 65% of all nickel produced. 
  • Nickel-metal hydride and rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries are two types of batteries that contain the nickel element.
  •  Hand-held power tools, camcorders, scanner radios, guitar strings, laptops, cellular and cordless telephones are just a few examples of daily devices that contain nickel. 
  • Desalination plants typically use a copper-nickel alloy to convert seawater to freshwater. 
  •  Nickel is a good material for making wires because of its malleability and flexibility. 
  • In gas turbines and parts of jet engines, super alloys made by combining nickel with iron or cobalt are employed.
  • The nickel dimethylglyoxime compound is used as a colorant in cosmetics, paints, and some polymers.
  • Nickel is also used for electroplating other metals using this natural material.

Advantages of Nickel

Nickel is classified as a transition metal. Because of its slow oxidation rate at normal temperature, it is hard, malleable, and corrosion-resistant. It’s also magnetic at ambient temperature and has a high melting point.

Disadvantages of Nickel

If too much nickel enters the human body, it has negative consequences like many other metals on the planet. For starters, inhaling certain nickel compounds while mining can cause miners to develop life-threatening allergies.

Fibrosis, lung cancer, and other diseases are more common in these employees. When high nickel concentrations accumulate in the air, soil, food, or water supply, humans are in danger of poisoning.

Conclusion

Nickel is a strong, shiny, silvery-white metal common in our daily lives, appearing in everything from television remote batteries to stainless steel kitchen sinks. Although many nickel alloys, including stainless steel, are safe to work with, additional care must be taken to protect the safety of people working with some other nickel compounds, including metallic nickel, because they have been linked to cancer.

References: 

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