From the implementation of near nascent methods to the use of a highly advanced technology-based approach, there has been a significant increase in the production of Nickel. The process of mining this valuable metal unexpectedly differs because Nickel can be found in two different forms of ore – Sulfide and Laterite mining.
Mining of Nickel from lateritic ore requires mining from various depths beneath the surface through the use of large moving equipment. This type of Nickel is extracted through extractive metallurgy – a conventional roasting method that removes moisture from the ore. Afterwards, the nickel oxide is removed by a reduction furnace that reduces the chemical-bound water. This process gives a 75% pure form of Nickel.
The Sulfidic ore is usually mined underground and is found in combination with copper ore. Current methods used in this type of Nickel mining include electric and flash smelting. During the mining process, the ore is placed in the furnace, which already contains pre-heated oxygen. As the smelting process continues, the iron and sulphide will oxidize and result in 45% nickel. In the final mining stage, oxygen is injected into the molten bath to remove any traces of sulphide and iron.
After the mining process of each type of Nickel, Nickel matte remains. Further refinement of the Nickel matte using the fluid bed roasting technique could result in a 95% pure nickel.
Refiners could also use electrical cells to remove the final impurities from the Nickel, thus resulting in a high-quality nickel. As soon as the mining process is completed, Nickel is sold for use. Among other forms of usage, the purified metal is commonly used as an alloy with copper or iron because of its defining characteristics of special magnetic and electronic properties, better strength at high and low temperature, and high resistance against corrosion. The alloy of Nickel is also used to create stainless steel found in every aspect of daily life – household to industrial applications.
Trading of Nickel is mostly done on notable metal exchanges with the price determined by various factors, including the increased demand for stainless steel, globalization, governmental regulations, and international tensions between countries. Much more, the limited availability of required mining locations in few mining countries also creates a highly dependent market.
Nickel extraction from ore follows a similar path to copper extraction, and in some circumstances, similar procedures and equipment are employed. The use of higher-temperature refractories and the greater cooling necessary to accommodate the higher operating temperatures in nickel production are the most significant variations in equipment. Whether the ore is a sulfide or a laterite, the procedures used are different. In the case of sulfides, a portion of the heat required for smelting comes from the reaction of oxygen with iron and sulfur in the ore. On the other hand, oxide ores do not yield the same reaction temperatures, necessitating the use of energy from other sources for smelting.
Nickel matte remains after the mining and processing of either lateritic or sulfidic ore. Using the fluid bed roasting procedure, a 95 percent pure nickel can be achieved after additional refinement.
Electric cells provide for a more efficient refining process. The remaining impurities are removed from the nickel using electrical cells with inert cathodes, resulting in a high-quality nickel. This kind of refinement is gradually becoming the industry norm.