Nickel’s primary purpose is for the production of stainless steel, but the metal also plays a key role in the global transition to clean energy and in EV battery production.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk put nickel in news headlines last year when he called on the world’s miners to produce more, and a recent report by Roskill found nickel demand from the EV sector alone is expected to grow by 2.6 million tonnes to 2040. The global nickel market is currently running at a surplus, but a supply deficit is expected to form in 2027 – and remain as demand accelerates.
Mining.com and sister company MiningIntelligence compiled the 10 largest nickel operations worldwide, based on production in 2020.
Russia’s Norilsk Nickel’s (Nornickel) Kola division, which includes five operating mines, takes first place. Located on the Kola Peninsula near the Norwegian and Finnish borders, the company’s nickel refining hub is a complex fed through the Severny and Kaula-Kotselvaara mines. Kola led global nickel production by far in 2020, with 172,000 tonnes. Under scrutiny for its environmental footprint, Nornickel has pledged to invest about $5 billion over the next decade to clean up lines on the Kola Peninsula.
BHP’s Nickel West operations, with three producing mines, takes second place. Low grade sulphide ore is mined from Mt. Keith, a large open pit operation, while high grade nickel sulphide ore is mined at the Cliffs and Leinster underground mines and Rocky’s Reward open pit mine. BHP is expanding its exposure to nickel by buying nickel tenements in Western Australia. Production last year was 75,000 tonnes.
In third place is Sorowako, where PT Vale produces nickel in matte from lateritic ores at its mining and processing facilities near Sorowako on the island of Sulawesi since 1968. Production is sold under long term contracts for refining. The total area is 190,509 hectares, and production for 2020 was 72,000 tonnes.
Nickel Asia’s Rio Tuba mine in the province of Palawan in the Philippines takes 4th place, producing 65,000 tonnes in 2020. The open pit operation exports saprolite and limonite ore and provides limonite ore and non-mining services to the adjacent Coral Bay HPAL plant.
In 5th place is Glencore’s Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations, comprised of the Fraser mine, Nickel Rim South mine, Strathcona mill and Sudbury smelter. The global miner has been mining nickel-copper ores in the Sudbury area since 1928. The facilities are spread throughout the 60-km-long geological formation known as the Sudbury Basin.
Rounding out the rest of top 10 are Eramet’s New Caledonia ferronickel operations with five operating mines, Vale’s century-old Sudbury operations with five mines, the Murrin Murrin operations in Australia held by Glencore, the Cerro Matoso open pit in Colombia, and Vale’s Voisey’s Bay mine in Canada.
Anglo America’s Barro Alto in Brazil (35,000l tonnes) ranked 11th, and in 12th place is IGO Ltd.’s Nova nickel-copper-cobalt operation in Western Australia (33,830 tonnes).
Click here for an excel download of the top 10 biggest nickel mines from the MiningIntelligence database.