An essential metal
The global nickel market size was USD33.3 billion in 2020. The global nickel market is projected to grow from $36.27 billion in 2021 to $59.14 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 7.3% in forecast period, 2021-2028. (Fortune Business Insights, 2022).
The nickel industry was worth +US$33 billion in 2020. Whilst stainless steel production has traditionally dominated the demand for nickel, the high growth industry of battery technology for the electric vehicle market is forecast to grow significantly in the coming years and is set to transform the nickel industry for decades to come. The value of the nickel industry is expected to be +US$ 59 billion by 2028. Source: Fortune Business Insights, 2022: https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/nickel-market-106576
Nickel has numerous physical and chemical properties that make it a key component for a wide range of products including stainless steel, medical equipment, mobile phones, wind turbines and batteries. It is an excellent resister of corrosion even at high temperatures and is used to plate other metals to protect them. It is also a hard, malleable, and ductile metal, and is a good conductor of heat and electricity.
The use of nickel is dominated by the production of ferronickel for stainless steel, currently accounting for 68% of the market. Other uses for nickel production include alloying elements, coatings, batteries, and other uses such as kitchen wares, mobile phones, medical equipment, transport, buildings, power generation and jewellery.
NICKEL SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Global demand for nickel is seen increasing by 9.2% in 2021 to 2.58 million tonnes, while supply is expected to climb by 5.8% to 2.638 million tonnes. (reuters, Jan 2021). Any shortfall in nickel production will bump headlong into surging demand for stainless steel in China and increasingly in other countries as economic stimulus accelerates worldwide stainless steel demand. Adding to the increase in stainless steel demand is the advent of EVs as a mode of transport preferred by governments as they seek to reduce pollution from internal combustion engines in major cities.
Nickel has been the subject of repeated booms (and busts) over previous decades, mainly because of supply shortages caused by labor disputes in big Canadian mines. The predicted nickel boom this time around has a new price driver, EVs, a mode of transport which was not even a blip on commodity investors radar screens in the early 2000’s.
The world’s nickel resources are currently estimated at almost 300 million tonnes. More than 50% of the global nickel resources occur in Australia, Indonesia, South Africa, Russia and Canada. Over two million tonnes of new or primary nickel are produced and used annually in the world, mined in more than 25 countries worldwide.
THE BATTERY MARKET
What is an EV battery?
An EV battery is a rechargeable source of stored energy where the energy is stored in the form of chemical energy. The energy from the battery powers the electric motor of a battery electric vehicle (BEV) or hybrid electric vehicle (HEV).
How does an EV battery work?
A lithium ion battery is made up of an anode, cathode, separator and an electrolyte.
Lithium salt makes up the electrolyte whilst the negatively charged anode is made of porous carbon in the form of graphite or graphene.
Cathodes are positively charged and made up of metal oxides. The metal present in the metal oxide determines the range of the battery and how fast it discharges. High energy density cathodes have attracted tremendous attention as they are required to overcome ‘range anxiety’ that is a concern hampering the universal uptake of EVs. Using nickel in the cathode gives a high energy density and good range capability.
During discharge the lithium ions (Li+) flow from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte and separator. When charging the battery, applying an electrical charge reverses the flow of the lithium ions and they flow from the cathode to the anode.