Nickel and a low carbon future

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Nickel is one of the elements that plays a critical enabling role in the energy transition required to reduce CO2 emissions

The pace of energy transition is increasing as green growth stimulus packages are introduced, and economies and companies alike commit to net carbon neutrality. The metals industry has a responsibility to support and facilitate the transition to a 'net-zero' low carbon economy.

Clean energy technologies generally require more metals than their fossil counterparts. And nickel, although unavoidably energy intensive to produce, has a critical role to play. Its unique properties are what make it a key part of the energy transition.

The nickel our members produce is a vital part of the energy transition because it is a critical component for most renewable energy technologies and battery production.

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Nickel's contribution to climate change technologies

The properties of nickel facilitate the deployment of the entire spectrum of clean energy technologies – geothermal, batteries for EVs and energy storage, hydrogen, hydro, wind and concentrating solar power. It is also necessary in nuclear energy technologies as well as carbon capture and storage.

Nickel provides a major cathode material in lithium ion batteries. In nickel-containing stainless steel, nickel provides toughness, strength and enhanced corrosion resistance, significantly increasing the end product’s life. It also leads to lower maintenance costs, as shown in the Progreso Pier case study. The case study showed that the use of nickel creates win-win situations from both an environmental and economic perspective.

Often a little nickel goes a long way in emissions-reducing technologies, contributing to sustainable solutions to help us get to net-zero.

The reduction of greenhouse gases gained during use of these technologies outweighs by far the energy intensity of nickel during production. And as nickel-enabled greener energy becomes more available, the carbon footprint of nickel production will in turn be reduced.

Emissions along the mineral supply chain do not negate the clear climate advantages of clean energy technologies.

Source: IEA (2021) The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions. All rights reserved. (page 15)

And importantly, nickel is highly recyclable, contributing to a circular economy. Nickel and nickel-containing alloys can be returned to their original state or converted to a different, but still valuable, form.

Take nickel from recycled batteries. The valuable metals contained in a battery such as nickel and cobalt create an economic incentive and ensure that the batteries are collected and recycled (which is a great advantage compared to some other battery technologies). The nickel from end of life batteries can be recycled and used for nickel-containing stainless steel. Or for example, nickel-containing stainless steel scrap which can be converted into new stainless steel. 

In the future, more nickel will come back for recycling and will lead to further reductions of the carbon footprint as recycling is often less energy intensive than producing it initially.

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Nickel & carbon footprint

Nickel, like other metals, is energy intensive to produce. Our members have reduced their carbon footprint over the past twenty years and recognize that more still needs to be done.

Climate change is the biggest global challenge and we all need to work towards a reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – and ideally become carbon neutral by 2050.

Reliable and transparent life cycle analysis

Nickel Institute Member companies are committed to providing transparent life cycle data. Since 1999, the Nickel Institute has been been collecting and analyzing data that shows the energy intensity of production processes as well as the amount of CO2 emitted.

The data are updated on a regular basis, to record the progress of Member companies in reducing GHG emissions. The data show that Nickel Institute member companies collectively reduced their CO2 emissions by 9% since 1999.

The nickel life cycle analysis is based on the principles of full lifecycle thinking, agreed concepts & methodologies and high quality data

Up-to-date data ensure that, for example, changes in mining and processing technologies, processed ores and concentrates as well as changes in ore deposits are taken into consideration. Such data are used for compiling Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) to compare products or services from an environmental perspective, assessing the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) or preparing Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). The Nickel Institute provides the data free of charge to databases so it can be accessed by downstream users of nickel, helping them to make sustainable choices.

Life cycle assessment information is important because the insight it provides guides action and good choices to help reduce the carbon footprint of nickel production and the products it goes into.

Read more about nickel life cycle assessment here.

0.27%

In 2019, nickel production accounted for 0.27% of global greenhouse emissions.

-9%

Over the past twenty years our Members have achieved a 9% emissions reduction

All our Members are committed to reducing their emissions and finding innovative new solutions, such as fuel switching and low carbon electricity supplies, to contribute to the necessary shift to greener energy.

Read more about what our Member companies are doing.

Sharing know-how for sustainable materials decisions

Through the Nickel Institute, the nickel industry provides technical know-how to downstream users of nickel.

Our goal is to give confidence to users and specifiers of materials to help them make the best choices for resilience and endurance of their projects and products. We do this through a free technical help service, frequent technical training and an extensive library of technical guides which are freely available.  We help to disseminate technologies with a long life such as nickel-containing stainless steel water distribution systems that contribute to sustainability by reducing water leaks and repairs, conserving water and reducing the energy needed to provide it.

Responsible sourcing

Responsible sourcing programs are being developed by upstream and downstream sectors aimed, in many cases, at ensuring that they do not contribute to human rights abuses or conflict. Many of these programs are based on the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas (OECD DDG).


The Nickel Institute supports its Members by building on existing frameworks and commitments, advocating for responsible sourcing tools and standards that are in line with internationally recognized standards for the responsible production and sourcing of minerals, such as the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines.

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Towards a sustainable mining future

Nickel Institute Member companies have set ambitious targets and are implementing innovative responses to reduce their carbon footprint and ensure a sustainable future.

Actions are being taken by Nickel Institute Members at environmental, social and governance levels such as energy efficiency, reduction of air and water pollution emissions, land reclamation and reforestation, waste management, increased use of recycled metals ... as well as community initiatives, occupational health and safety measures and human rights strategies.

Wind turbine being installed at the Raglan Mine, Nunavik, Quebec. ©Justin Bulota
Wind turbine being installed at the Raglan Mine, Nunavik, Quebec. ©Justin Bulota

Here we showcase just a few of the examples of the work they are doing. Collectively they give a flavour of an industry that is taking responsibility to ensure that critical nickel is available for the energy transition while minimizing its environmental impact. 

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