Nickel

This information has not been updated since 2010 and is provided for general reference purposes. For more detailed information and for the latest data, please see the Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources nickel chapter External site link.

Nickel briquettes at the Kwinana nickel refinery, Western Australia. Reproduced with permission from the former WMC Resources Limited (now BHP Billiton).

Nickel briquettes at the Kwinana
nickel refinery, Western Australia.
© Reproduced with permission
from the former WMC Resources
Limited (now BHP Billiton) External site link

Australia has some of the world’s largest nickel sulphide and lateritic deposits of their type, mainly in Western Australia. Australia has the world’s most significant share of economic resources of nickel with around 24 million tonnes representing 35 per cent of the world economic resources followed by New Caledonia with 10.3 per cent, Russia with 9.6 per cent, and Cuba with 8 per cent. Australia is also one of the major nickel producers.

Nickel Properties and Uses

Nickel is a lustrous, silvery-white metal which has relatively low electrical and thermal conductivities, has strength and toughness at elevated temperatures, is easily shaped into thin wires and flat sheets and is capable of being magnetised. It is very durable as a pure metal and readily alloys with many other metals to enhance their strength and resistance to corrosion as well as their electrical, magnetic and heat resistant properties.

About 65 per cent of world nickel output is consumed in the manufacture of stainless and heat-resisting steels which are used in the chemical, construction, transport, military, marine and aerospace industries. Nickel is also used in domestic items such as sinks, cooking utensils and white-goods, as well as in nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries, electroplating, jewellery and medical applications such as artificial hips, knees and kidney dialysis.

Aerial view of Murrin Murrin nickel-cobalt processing plant, Western Australia. Reproduced with permission from Minara Resources Limited.

Aerial view of Murrin Murrin
nickel-cobalt processing plant,
Western Australia.
© Reproduced with permission
from Minara Resources Limited External site link

Properties and uses of nickel are summarised in the Australian Mines Atlas Nickel Rock File External site link.

Nickel Production and Exports

All of Australia’s annual nickel production of around 165 000 tonnes is from Western Australia and attracts export earnings of around $3.2 billion.

Information on Australia’s mineral production and exports is given in Australia’s Mineral Statistics and Australian Commodities, both produced quarterly by Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) External site link.

Nickel Resources

Western Australia is the largest holder of nickel resources with about 90 per cent of total Australian economic resources, followed by New South Wales with 5 per cent, Queensland with 4 per cent and Tasmania with less than 1 per cent. The economic demonstrated resources in Western Australia comprises both sulphide and lateritic deposits, while the economic resources in New South Wales and Queensland are associated with laterite deposits.

Massive nickel-copper-PGE sulphides at basal contact of Kambalda. Komatiite with underlying basalt; Lunnon Shoot, Kambalda, Western Australia.Photo from M. J. Donaldson (previously GSWA, Perth).

Massive nickel-copper-PGE
sulphides at basal contact of
Kambalda Komatiite with
underlying basalt; Lunnon Shoot,
Kambalda, Western Australia.
Photo from M. J. Donaldson
(previously GSWA, Perth)

Russia is the largest nickel miner producing around 270 000 tonnes, followed by Indonesia with 190 000 tonnes, Canada with 180 000 tonnes and Australia with 170 000 tonnes.

Australia’s nickel resources and reserves are summarised annually in Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources.

Geoscience Australia produces maps of Australia’s operating mines, mineral deposits, endowment, and processing centres via the Australian Mines Atlas External site link.

Nickel Exploration and Discovery

Minor quantities of nickel were produced from near Zeehan of western Tasmania from 1894, but it was not until 1966, when a new type of nickel sulphide deposit was discovered at Kambalda in Western Australia that Australia had a major impact on the global nickel market.

Nickel exploration in Australia has focussed on Precambrian mafic-ultramafic igneous rocks in the older crustal components of Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory. The largest deposits are hosted by Archean komatiitic rocks in Western Australia’s Yilgarn Craton although smaller deposits occur in Archean layered mafic-ultramafic intrusions in the Pilbara Craton and in similar Proterozoic intrusions in the Halls Creek and Musgrave orogenic zones. Nickel is also being produced from nickel laterite deposits in the Yilgarn Craton. Unusual hydrothermal nickel sulphide deposits in the younger Phanerozoic terranes of Eastern Australia have produced minor amounts of nickel while lateritic nickel was mined at Greenvale in Queensland between 1974 and 1992.


Iron cap ridge at the Murrin Murrin nickel-cobalt laterite deposit, Western Australia. Reproduced with permission from Minara Resources Limited.

Iron cap ridge at the Murrin Murrin
nickel-cobalt laterite deposit,
Western Australia.
© Reproduced with permission
from Minara Resources Limited External site link

Highlights of mineral exploration, including nickel, are reviewed annually in Australian Mineral Exploration Review and Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources.

Further information on nickel and platinum-group elements is contained in the Geoscience Australia publication New Products from Geoscience Australia to assist nickel and platinum explorers 2008.

Geoscience Australia Programs

Geoscience Australia’s series of ‘Magmatic Events’ web-based map sheets summarise the continental extent and age relationships of Proterozoic and Archean mafic and ultramafic rocks and associated mineral deposits throughout Australia. These maps provide a national framework for investigating under-explored and potentially mineralised environments.

Other previous Geoscience Australia programs (some archived) have investigated the nickel and platinum-group element potential of Precambrian mafic-ultramafic rocks in the Pilbara Craton (Hoatson et al., 1992; Hoatson & Sun, 2002), Halls Creek Orogen (Hoatson & Blake, 2000), Arunta Region (Hoatson et al., 2005), and Gawler Craton (Hoatson et al., 2005). Hoatson et al. (2006) summarise the geological setting and resources of nickel sulphide deposits in Australia.

Topic contact: minerals@ga.gov.au Last updated: April 17, 2014