Nickel and the environment

Environmental protection has become a leading public policy priority in recent years.

There are now a range of international treaties and legislation in place or in the process of being adopted to control and reduce of chemical and metal emissions, and to set environmental quality standards for air, water and soil.


Nickel is the 24th most abundant element in the earth's crust and can be found in the air, soil, sediments and water.
Nickel and nickel-containing materials play an important role in the technologies and applications that are helping achieve key environmental policy objectives, such as reducing carbon emissions. Even though nickel is an essential element for plants, as with all metals and chemicals, excessive amounts can adversely impact the quality of the environment for flora and fauna. This is why nickel is closely regulated and is subject to extensive assessments within a number of legislative frameworks.


Nickel Institute fully supports regulatory standards that are effective, proportionate and provide protection. To deliver these goals, it is essential to develop environmental quality standards (EQS) that:

  • Use the latest available datasets

  • Use current scientific evidence, and

  • Take bioavailability into consideration.


Setting regulatory standards and EQSs for metals and nickel needs to take account of bioavailability. This is essential to avoid under- or over-estimating the risks posed by metals in the environment. The Nickel Institute and NiPERA support developing bioavailability-based standards for nickel.


In 2013, the European Union adopted the first bioavailability-based freshwater EQS for nickel under the Water Framework Directive (4µg bioavailable Ni/L). This standard represents the current state of the science on nickel ecotoxicology and has been applicable since 2015.
The Nickel Institute and NiPERA partnered with other metal associations to support implementation of the EQS in the EU. Together we provide appropriate guidance and have developed user-friendly tools for assessing the bioavailable concentrations of nickel and other metals in water.


New standards are being developed and existing legislation is being revised in many jurisdictions across the world, including Australia and New Zealand, Canada, China, Japan and the United States. The Nickel Institute and NiPERA are working to promote development of protective, scientifically sound standards for nickel that take into account bioavailability.


Health-based quality standards can also be set for chemicals and metals in ambient air in order to protect humans from exposure. Ambient air quality standard for nickel are in place in a number of countries.


Nickel production is energy intensive. However, nickel finds its way into a wide range of applications where it significantly reduces the generation of greenhouse gases during use. The reduction of greenhouse gases during use outweighs the energy intensity of nickel during production by far. Examples include electrical vehicles, where nickel provides a major cathode material in lithium ion batteries (see our infographic on batteries). Another example is nickel-containing stainless steel, where nickel enhances corrosion resistance, significantly increasing the product’s life. It also leads to lower maintenance costs, as shown in the Progreso Pier case study

Nickel also plays a major role in low-carbon energy supply technologies. A study by Leiden University investigated the raw material demand for low carbon power generation. In the study, researchers defined different technology scenarios to achieve the 80 percent greenhouse gas reduction target by 2050. The report concluded that nickel plays a major role in all technology solutions designed to mitigate climate change.

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