More than 80% of nickel production is used in alloys. When alloyed with other elements, nickel imparts toughness, strength, resistance to corrosion and various electrical, magnetic and heat resistant properties. About 65% of world nickel output is consumed in the manufacture of stainless steel, which is used widely in the chemical industry, motor vehicles, the construction industry and in consumer products such as sinks, cooking utensils, cutlery and white-goods.
Australia's Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) of nickel decreased by 13.2% from 20.4 million tonnes (Mt) to 17.7 Mt in 2012 as a result of mining companies revising their resources. About 88% of Australia’s EDR is in 15 deposits. Australia's EDR of nickel can be subdivided as follows:
- About 42.4% of Australia's EDR comprise Reserves as defined under the Joint Ore Reserve Committee (JORC) Code.
- About 57.6% is made up of published JORC Code compliant Measured and Indicated Resources.
Western Australia (WA) retains the largest nickel resources with 96.0% of total Australian EDR. Queensland (Qld) is the second largest with 3.8%, followed by Tasmania (Tas) with 0.2%. The EDR in WA comprises both sulphide and lateritic deposits, while EDR in Qld is associated with laterite deposits.
Subeconomic Demonstrated Resources (Paramarginal plus Submarginal Demonstrated Resources) account for about 11.0% of total Identified Resources in 2012. Paramarginal Resources increased from 3.5 Mt to 4.2 Mt, while the Submarginal Resources decreased from 0.6 Mt to 0.2 Mt. A total of 75.0% of the subeconomic nickel resources are in WA.
Inferred Resources decreased from 18.4 Mt to 17.8 Mt in 2012 with WA maintaining its dominance with 87.6% of the total followed by NSW with 5.7%.
The ratio of Inferred Resources to EDR in 2012 was 1:1.
Currently, all nickel EDR is accessible for mining. At the rate of production in 2012, Accessible Economic Demonstrated Resources (AEDR) of nickel is sufficient for about 73 years.
About 42% of AEDR is made up of Joint Ore Reserve Committee (JORC) Code Reserve. The remaining 58% of EDR represents resources assessed by Geoscience Australia from the Measured and Indicated categories of industry reported mineral resources as defined under the JORC Code and other classification systems used by companies not listed on the Australian Securities Exchange.
Total JORC Code Reserves of nickel are adequate for 31 years at current rates of production.
Expenditure on nickel-cobalt exploration for 2012 as reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics was $235.7 million, a decrease of 10.1% on 2011. WA attracted most of this expenditure with $228.4 million.
All of Australia's nickel production in 2012 was from WA and amounted to 244 kilotonnes (kt), up from 215 kt in 2011, as reported by the Australian Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE). The value of all nickel products exported was $4.005 billion and was Australia's eight most valuable mineral and petroleum export commodity. Australia was the world's fourth-largest nickel producer behind Philippines, Indonesia and Russia accounting for 11.4% of estimated world mine production.
Based on figures published by the United States Geological Survey and the latest Australian resource figures, world economic resources of nickel decreased to 72.6 Mt in 2012 from 76.0 Mt in 2011. Australia's share of world economic resources of nickel was 24.4% in 2012. It remained the largest holder of economic resources followed by New Caledonia (16.5%), Brazil (10.3%), Russia (8.4%) and Cuba (7.6%).
Russia was the largest producer with 330 kt (15.4%), followed by Indonesia with 320 kt (14.9%), Philippines with 270 kt (12.6%) and Australia with 244 kt (11.4%).