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NICKEL

  • Nickel
  • Mines Producing Nickel

It is often added to other metals to make alloys that are stronger, rust resistant and better able to withstand intense temperatures, both hot and cold. Nickel is malleable and can be formed into wires and flat sheets. When added to iron, nickel forms stainless steel. Like iron, nickel is also magnetic, though not as magnetic as iron.


Nickel’s name reveals its long standing reputation for being difficult to mine and refine. It comes from two German words, nickel and kupfernickel. Nickel is the name for the mythological character Old Nick, a German name for the devil. Its other name means "Old Nick's copper" or “Devil’s Copper” because miners in the 1400s thought it looked like copper, and was a devil to mine. It was first classified as an element in 1751 by the Swedish chemist Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, after first being mistaken for a copper mineral.


Nickel was discovered in Australia in 1897, but it was another 60 years before it was found in large enough quantities to be mined. The first mine was built in Kambalda, 50 kilometres south of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.
Australia is now the fourth largest nickel producer in the world, after Russia, Indonesia and Canada. Australia produces around 170,000 tonnes of nickel yearly, earning about $3.2 billion each year in exports. Australian production is close behind Canada’s output of 180,000 tonnes each year and Indonesia’s 190,000 tones, however Russia far outstrips the rest of the world with 270,000 tonnes worth of yearly nickel production. Western Australia holds around 90% of all Australia’s nickel resources, with the rest coming from NSW, Queensland and just 1% from Tasmania.


Nickel is originally found as ore deposits in the earth, combined as either a sulphide or laterite ore. Laterite is a kind of soil that is rich in iron and aluminium, which is formed underground in warm and wet tropical places. The first historical use of laterite was to make bricks, as the laterite was simply cut into brick shapes to use in building. The other nickel ore, sulphide nickel ore is a mixture of sulphur with nickel and other rock and mineral elements. Before nickel is in a pure enough form to be useful, it has to be extracted from its ore formation.


Most of the nickel produced today comes from sulphide deposits, because these are easier to mine and process than lateritic nickel ore. The mining process depends on what kind of ore the nickel is found in. Sulphide nickel deposits are found hundreds of metres below the earth’s surface, and so retrieving the ore requires serious mining infrastructure. However, once it has been mined it can be separated using a simple method called froth floatation, where the nickel ore is crushed and ground, then put in liquid and chemicals that make the nickel float to the top while the unwanted material sinks.


Laterite nickel deposits lie closer to the surface, so are easier to find, however the refinement technique is more complicated, as the surrounding rock must be dissolved before the nickel can be extracted. This is mostly done using heat, as the nickel can withstand temperatures that will destroy all the surrounding matter.
Around 73% of the world's nickel resources are in the form of laterite ore, while the rest are in sulphide. While laterite forms are mostly found in tropical areas, Australia has both kinds of nickel deposits.


Interestingly, Australia actually has the world’s largest quantity of nickel deposits, estimated at around 35% of the world’s nickel resources. This means our nickel production has great potential to increase as we develop better methods to extract the nickel from the difficult laterite deposits.


Nickel is used in a great number of ways, from coinage and cutlery to batteries and armour. As we have discovered more about nickel over the years, its uses have grown. Initially it was used in silver coinage, until it was replaced with less valuable. There is still some nickel used in Australian coins – our ‘gold’ $1 and $2 coins contain 2% nickel (with 92% copper and 6% aluminium), while our and our ‘silver’ coins contain 25% nickel and 75% copper.


Over 80% of all the nickel produced is mixed with other mentals to make alloy. Thousands of different alloys have been created using nickel, tailored for specific purposes to suit the needs of industries such as construction, cars, household products, scientific and medical equipment, engines and pipelines.


The remaining percentage of nickel is used in rechargeable batteries for small electrical devices like mobile phones, calculators and clocks. It is also used for coating surfaces to protect against tarnishing, and can even play a part in producing soap and margarine, as it helps to convert natural oils into solids. It also appears in jewellery as well as artificial joints such as hips and knees. And as more nickel is produced within Australia, we will no doubt discover more uses for this great resource.

Australian Mines that produce Nickel

Browns ( NT )

The Browns mine near Batchelor in Northern Territory remains on care and maintenance while owner HNC (Australia) Resources Pty Ltd assess viability.

Alec Mairs ( WA )

The Alec Mairs nickel mine near Leinster in Western Australia has been put on care and maintenance along with the other Cosmos operations.

Carnilya Hill ( WA )

Mining at the Carnilya Hill underground nickel mine at Kambalda in the Western Australia Eastern Goldfields ceased in March 2012.

Cliffs ( WA )

The Cliffs underground mine in Western Australia mines nickel and cobalt with workers flown in on a FIFO basis from Perth to stay at the unique Leinster village.

Flying Fox ( WA )

Flying Fox is one of Australia’s highest grade nickel mines. The mine is situated in Western Australia and is owned and managed by Western Areas LTD.

Lanfranchi ( WA )

Run of mine (ROM) ore mined at the Lanfranchi underground mine in Western Australia is delivered to BHP Billiton Nickel West Concentrator at Kambalda.

Long ( WA )

The Long nickel mine at Kambalda in Western Australia is owned by Independence Gold. It has the second largest nickel deposit in the region.

Lounge Lizard Nickel ( WA )

Lounge Lizard Nickel mine managing company, Western Areas Limited, purchased the mine from Kagara and added it to its Western Australia Forrestania resource.

Mariners ( WA )

Mariners mine is in the middle of Lake Zot. A flood filled the lake wrecking drilling equipment during its discovery. This led to the name, Mariners.

Mcleay ( WA )

The McLeay nickel/cobalt deposit, that is part of the Long Nickel Mine located at Kambalda in the Eastern Goldfields Region of W.A, is owned by IGO.

Miitel ( WA )

The Miitel nickel mine in W.A. was acquired by Mincor from WMC Resources in 2001 and in the next 11 years had produced 2.03 million tonnes of ore.

Moran ( WA )

The Moran nickel deposit is part of the larger Long nickel mine in the nickel rich Kambalda Nickel Region of Western Australia south of Kalgoorlie.

Mt Keith ( WA )

The Mount Keith nickel mine in W.A. is a member of the BHP Billiton Group. It is located 460 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie in the Northern Goldfields.

Murrin Murrin ( WA )

The Murrin Murrin nickel mine in the North Eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia is owned by Glencore Xstrata and employs around 1,000 personnel.

Perseverance ( WA )

The Perseverance nickel mine near Leinster in Western Australia was closed by BHP Billiton Nickel West in December 2013 for being no longer safe to operate.

Prospero ( WA )

The Prospero nickel mine in Western Australia was permanently closed by its owner Xstrata during 2011.

Savannah ( WA )

The Savannah copper, nickel and cobalt underground mine 240 kilometres south of Kununurra in Western Australia is owned by Panoramic Resources.

Spotted Quoll ( WA )

The Spotted Quoll underground mine in Western Australia began as the Tim King open pit mine. It produces some of the worlds highest grades of nickel.

Tapinos ( WA )

The Tapinos nickel/cobalt underground mine at the Cosmos Mining Operations in Western Australia has been put on care and maintenance by GlencoreXstrata.

Victor ( WA )

Decline access was obtained to reach the W.A. Victor nickel deposit from the Long underground mine in 1992 when the mine was owned by WMC Resources.

Worsley ( WA )

The Worsley bauxite mine and alumina refinery in South West Western Australia employs more than 1,800 people and produces 4.6 million tonnes of alumina annually.

Maggie Hays ( WA )

Russian miner Norilsk Nickel has recommissioned the Maggie Hays underground nickel mine in WA after two years of closure created by the world economic downturn.

Cosmos ( WA )

The Cosmos mine in central Western Australia was placed under care and maintenance in September 2012

Sinclair ( WA )

The Sinclair Mine survived the downturn in world nickel prices when owner Xstrata closed its larger Cosmos Mine but continued with its Sinclair operation.

Mcmahon ( WA )

The McMahon nickel deposit at Kambalda in W.A. is depleting. Recent exploratory drilling reveal average grades too low to justify further development.

Otter Juan ( WA )

The Otter-Juan nickel mine in Kambalda, Western Australia, is Kambalda's oldest producing mine as well as being the area's largest single ore body.

Wingellina ( WA )

The Western Australian remote Central Musgrave Ranges Wingellina nickel project has been suspended by MetalsX because of low nickel prices and a weak market.

Blackswan ( WA )

In June 2012, Russian nickel producer, Norilsk Nickel, decided to not proceed with the re-opening of the Black Swan nickel mine in W.A. It is now up for sale.

Wannaway ( WA )

The Wannaway nickel mine at Kambalda in Western Australia was terminated by Mincor Resources NL in August 2008 after the ore body was mined out.

Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter ( WA )

The Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter located 20 kilometres south of Kalgoorlie, now owned by BHP Billiton, began operations in 1972 under WMC ownership.

Kwinana Nickel Refinery ( WA )

The BHP Billiton Nickel West Kwinana Nickel Refinery at Kwinana Beach, 30 Kilometres south of Perth in W.A., was acquired from WMC Resouces in 2005.

Leinster ( WA )

Leinster provides work and modern accommodation for BHP Billiton's Nickel West permanent and FIFO work force.

Yabulu ( QLD )

The Yabulu nickel refinery near Townsville in Queensland had put more than 75 million tonnes of imported ore through the Townsville port by April, 2013.

Yakabindie ( VIC )

The Yakabindie nickel mine is W.A. that is owned by BHP Billiton Nickel West, has all approvals in place and will open when market conditions improve.

Ramu ( PNG )

The Chinese owned Ramu nickel mine in Papua New Guinea made its first shipment of nickel and cobalt in November and was officially opened in December 2012.

Ravensthorpe ( WA )

The Ravensthorpe Nickel mine, 550 kilometres south east of Perth in Western Australia, exports nickel products to customers in Brazil, India and China.

Mt Windarra ( WA )

The Windarra underground nickel mine in Western Australia is on the verge of re-opening under the ownership of Poseidon Nickel.

Nova ( WA )

The Nova underground nickel mine being developed by Sirius Resources near Balladonia in Western Australia will start production in 2015.

Sconi ( QLD )

The SCONI Project, north west of Townsville in northern Queensland, has the potential to be the largest source of scandium in the world.

Mulga Rock ( WA )

The Mulga Rock Uranium Project in remote Western Australia will also produce nickel, cobalt and scandium when it becomes operational.

Niwest Nickel Laterite ( WA )

The NiWest Nickel Laterite Project at Murrin Murrin, in Western Australia, has the potential to be the first fully integrated nickel laterite heap leach project in the world.

Red Hill ( NSW )

The Red Hill Mine located near Broken Hill in New South Wales, that closed in 1937, could once again become productive with the mining of Platinium Group Emements (PGE's).

Copernicus Nickel Project ( WA )

The Copernicus Nickel Project Located in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia is once again producing ore that blends with that from the Savannah nickel operation.

West Musgrave Project ( WA )

The West Musgrave base metal project in eastern Western Australia, is regarded by some as being the last mineral exploration frontier in Australia.

Lake Johnson ( WA )

The Lake Johnston nickel project is to once again produce good quality smeltable nickel, this time under the management of Australian nickel miner, Poseidon Nickel Limited.

Forrestania Nickel Project ( WA )

The Forrestania Nickel project in the Goldfields region of Western Australia produces some of the world's highest grade nickel concentrate.

Mt Thirsty ( WA )

The Mt Thirsty base metal project, that is located in the Eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia, is being developed as a Joint Venture involving Barra Resources and Conico.

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