A number of coins worldwide – including the US five cent coin – are still made using nickel alloys © 123RF
A number of coins worldwide – including the US five cent coin – are still made using nickel alloys © 123RF

Global focus on… nickel

20 February 2017

Prices are set to drop, as Indonesia eases its export ban on nickel ore, boosting supply to neighbouring China for its stainless steel production

Precious metals

The unintentional use of nickel can be traced back as far as 3500 BC. Bronze artefacts from Syria have been found to contain as much as 2% nickel.

In the money

Coins still made with nickel alloys include 20p, 50p, £1 and £2 UK coins,
one- and two-euro coins and 5¢, 10¢, 25¢ and 50¢ US coins. 

Common occurrence

Nickel occurs naturally in both food and water. Humans may absorb nickel directly from tobacco smoke and skin contact with jewellery, shampoos, detergents, and coins. 

Super producers

The world’s largest producers of nickel include Indonesia, Russia, Canada and Australia, and its most common use is in the production of stainless steel.

Natural attraction

Nickel is a silvery-white metal with a slight golden tinge and is only one of three naturally occurring elements – the other two being iron and cobalt – that is strongly magnetic.

Buried treasure

Nickel is said to be the fifth most abundant element on earth. However, it is 100 times more concentrated below the earth’s crust than in it.

Mining the devil

The name comes from Kupfernickel, or “devil’s copper”, a term used by German miners who unsuccessfully tried to remove copper from nickel ore that looked like copper ore.

Itchy and scratchy

Because of its use in so many everyday items, nickel is one of the most common causes of skin allergies. In 2008, it was voted Allergen of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

What they say

“Nickel prices on the LME are currently up 17% on January 2016… This is due to a supply shortfall after 10 nickel mines were shut down in the Philippines for failing to meet environmental regulations, cutting more than 10% of the country’s capacity.” Avneet Deol, Senior Data Analyst at Mintec

“The world nickel market slipped … into a deficit last year following a second successive annual contraction in supply and a boost in demand in the wake of surge in Chinese stainless steel production.” G Chandrashekhar, Agri commodity market specialist, the Hindu Businessline

“The biggest winner will be China, as Indonesia was its main supplier of nickel ore and bauxite before the controversial ban was imposed three years ago.” Cecilia Jamasmie, news editor at MINING.com


Market sentiment for nickel is “overly bullish compared with fundamentals”, according to BMI Research, which forecasts the nickel market to loosen this year. The report went on to say that China’s consumption would be weaker due to the availability of nickel pig iron – a cheaper version – coming through from Indonesia, reducing Chinese demand for refined nickel, which is more expensive. An anticipated slump in the global housing market by the end of the year, will also slow overall steel production, and nickel demand.

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