USE OF NICKEL
The use of nickel increases with the level of development of a country's economy. Global demand has grown since the early 2000s at an average annual rate of 4% to 5%. As electric vehicles come to play a larger role in fulfilling the world's transportation needs, this new source of nickel demand is expected to significantly add to the current baseline demand of the stainless steel and high performance alloys markets.
Nickel has long been used in several types of rechargeable batteries. Recently, the increased use of nickel in lithium-ion batteries has enabled them to provide higher energy density and greater storage capacity at lower cost.
Nickel content of new-generation battery cathodes for electric vehicles has gone from 30% to 80% in order to optimize energy density.
The competitive cost of storing renewable energy from wind and solar power in nickel batteries favours the adoption of these intermittent sources as a replacement for fossil fuels.
Stainless Steel and
High Performance Alloys
Stainless steel and alloys that contain nickel are found in objects we use in everyday life as well as specialized applications that require high-performance materials. It should also be noted that nickel can be easily recycled. Thus, some of the stainless steel produced every year comes from the recovery of this metal.
Stainless steel is produced in the form of plates, bars, sheet metal, even tubes and wires. The nickel content in the stainless steel varies depending on the grades (type) of stainless steel and the properties that it is intended to give it. Most used contain between 8% and 13% of nickel (grades 304 and 316). In addition, nickel is used in other alloys where it is associated with other metals such as chromium, copper, molybdenum (increased resistance to acids), cobalt (increased resistance to deformation) or titanium (memory metal).
In cupro-nickel alloys, nickel is associated with copper to increase the alloy's resistance to corrosion and reduce its tendency to be colonized by marine organisms. The proportion of nickel in this alloy can reach 10-30%. It is used for shipbuilding (propeller, hulls, etc.) and the construction of structures exposed to seawater (salt water pipe, desalination plants, offshore platforms, etc.).
Finally, nickel is sometimes used in a pure form (99%) in equipment intended for the chemical industry, because it has excellent resistance to corrosive environments and certain liquids or products such as dry chlorine, fluorine or hydrogen chloride.
Food preparation and appliances
The equipment used for the industrial preparation of food (cooking, pasteurization...) and in the home (cookware, kitchen sink) are usually made of stainless steel, because they must withstand heat and corrosion, and be easily washable.
Medical and surgical equipment
The use of stainless steel for medical equipment (imaging, treatment), surgical tools as well as some prostheses (joints, implants, pacemakers) is common because it makes these items easy to sterilize and very durable.
Heavy industries, chemical and pharmaceutical industries
Many industrial processes require equipment and components that will resist the aggressiveness of the products used (acids, bases) and the extreme conditions of the processes (high temperatures, pressures). Stainless steel is therefore used for the construction of tanks, chemical reactors and piping.
Water supply and water treatment
Nickel makes water networks (pipes, wells, pumps) made of stainless steel more durable by reducing losses and preventing contamination.
Stainless steel is also used in water purification plants to (tanks, piping, desalination plants) and in wastewater treatment plants.
Construction and architecture
Stainless steel is often used as an exterior and interior cladding in architecture for its weather resistance and aesthetic appearance. When used as concrete reinforcement it doubles the life of the concrete.
Nickel is widely used in renewable energy production facilities (wind turbine components, hydroelectric turbines).
In subways, streetcars and trains, nickel steels are used to reinforce structures and improve their durability. They provide greater structural stability in the event of a fire, they are better able to absorb energy in the event of an impact.
The use of nickel-based alloys is also favored in shipbuilding and the construction of offshore structures (wind turbines, oil platforms) which must withstand marine conditions.
In aerospace, nickel-based alloys are used in axles and turbines. Improved engine performance when operating at higher temperatures saves fuel. They are also essential in the making of molds used for the manufacture of parts such as those made of carbon fibers which make it possible to lighten planes.
Nickel plating provides a protective layer, facilitates weld adhesion, and can also be used to shield materials against electromagnetic interference. The use of nickel plating in coinage is well known, but nickel is also widely used for plating and coating in electronic components such as computer hard drives, microprocessors, integrated circuits, as well as aeronautic and automotive parts.
Currently, nickel mining operations take place in around 20 countries. Each year, over 2 million tonnes of nickel are mined worldwide, including 180,000 tonnes in Canada in 2018 (NRCan). This global production is expected to reach 4 million tonnes by 2030 (Roskill, Red Door Research).
In its natural state, nickel can be found in the form of oxides, sulphides (including pentlandite) or silicates. Nickel is common in the Earth's crust and is found in higher concentration in the Earth's core.
Historically, nickel has mainly been produced from nickel sulphide deposits. Nickel sulphide concentrates are conventionally produced from sulphide ores by flotation and magnetic separation, as is planned for the Dumont nickel project.
Concentrates from nickel sulphide deposits are then usually sent to smelters and refineries to produce pure nickel that can be used in a wide range of products. This downstream process is preferred when other by-product metals are associated with nickel in the concentrates and smelting and refining make it possible to recover them.
Since the 1990s, laterite deposits have become the main source of nickel for stainless steel production. Laterites are weathered rocks which have undergone intense surface leaching and concentration of nickel to ore grades. Many laterite ores are processed to create ferronickel which is used directly in the production of stainless steel. In the case of ferronickel production, by-product metals are not recovered.
Markets for Dumont's Nickel
Since approximately 95% of the value of Dumont nickel ore is accounted for by nickel, both smelting-refining to produce pure nickel and the lower-cost roasting method to produce ferronickel are viable options for the downstream processing and marketing of Dumont nickel sulphide concentrates.
A third processing option currently being developed for Dumont concentrates is leaching to produce nickel sulphates for the battery supply chain.