The importance of Nickel for the future of Australia
Nickel is the fifth-most common element on Earth and has unintentionally been used in various forms by humans for over 5500 years.
From its early use in coins, to its modern application in stainless steel, and the growing need for nickel in sustainable technologies, this silver metal has become essential for hundreds of thousands of products.
Whilst nickel is still used in small amounts in coinage, by far its largest application now is for alloys and producing stainless steel – thanks to unique properties like heat and corrosion resistance. Due to this, nickel was critical to the development of both the rocket engine and desalination plant, and has since found a place in the medical industry for surgical equipment and implants like artificial knees and hips.
With the rise of electrical power applications in transport and technology, nickel has seen bonus growth as a major component for rechargeable batteries. Currently only 5 per cent of nickel’s demand is for batteries, but as electrical technologies continue to increase, that is only set to build.
Nickel helping to reach net zero
With the world shifting to sustainability, major economies are adopting and promoting electric vehicles in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. As a key ingredient of the lithium-ion batteries that the current generation of EVs and electrical technologies rely on, nickel has been forecast to significantly jump in the coming years.
Driving this increase in demand is the need for high-purity nickel of a greater than 99.8 per cent purity to produce the key ingredient of EV batteries: nickel sulphate. Additionally, by adding more nickel to an EV cathode, a battery’s energy density can be greatly boosted, which translates into more range per pound of batteries – a win for automakers and drivers alike. Early lithium-ion batteries used cathodes that were about one-third nickel, which has since been increased to contain at least 60 per cent nickel on average.
Due to this, global demand for the high-grade nickel required for EV batteries is likely to outstrip supply by 2024 according to analysts at Rystad Energy, even as battery technology evolves, and sizes shrink. In 2020, an average lithium-ion battery contained around 28.9 kilograms of nickel, according to Statista – nearly five times the amount of lithium.
Australia supplying the world with nickel
Currently, more than 11.5 per cent of global nickel resources come from Australia, with 160,000 tonnes of the metal produced in 2021. In a market valued over US$20 billion, Australia’s production has been predicted by a Roskill report to grow to more than 25 per cent of new mined supply by 2030.
This is helped by the fact that Australia – and Western Australia in particular – is host to some of the world’s highest-grade nickel sulphide deposits and, as geopolitical tensions have disrupted the supply chain of nickel, is perfectly placed to step up to supply demands. Thanks to the near 21 million tonnes of economic demonstrated reserves of nickel in Australia – the second largest in the world – the future of nickel in Australia is bright.
Our flagship Nickel project is the Money Intrusion JV with international mining company First Quantum Minerals (FQM) where high tenor magmatic Ni-Cu sulphides have been intersected in first pass drilling confirming the potential of the Money Intrusion to host high grade nickel and copper deposits. FQM is spending $15M to earn 51% of the project with DRE free carried to a decision to mine.