What’s Nickel Smelting?

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Nickel smelting removes impurities from nickel ore to leave only the metal. Ores come from laterites in tropical climates or sulfuric ore mined underground. The ore is melted in an electric furnace using flash smelting. Refining the liquid matte is done through fluid bed roasting or chloride-hydrogen reduction. The resulting nickel is used for alloys, hydrogenating vegetable oils, batteries, and magnets.

Nickel smelting is the process by which the nickel ore removes impurities and leaves only the nickel metal. While minerals can come from a variety of stones and sources, they come in two categories: laterites, or rocks found in tropical climates and which contain nickel; and sulfuric ore, which is mined from underground. The ore must go through various processes, depending on the type of ore and the preferences of the smelter, to become nickel. Some nickel smelting processes will create slag, while others will be cleaner.

The first part of nickel smelting is obtaining the ores. Lateritic ores are found in tropical climates, where nickel is deposited under the surface of the ore due to weathering. This mineral has a high moisture content and contains other metals, such as iron. Sulfide minerals are mined from underground, have much less moisture, and can contain many different metals in the same ore. Regardless of the ore chosen, the smelter can still mine the nickel.

An electric furnace is then typically used to heat the nickel ore until it melts. The melting point of nickel is 2.647° Fahrenheit (1.453° Celsius), so powerful furnaces must be used. Most often, the smelting of nickel is done by flash smelting, in which electricity and oxygen are combined to quickly reach the necessary high temperature. Nickel ore must melt into a product known as an opaque liquid, which is usually about 45% nickel and 55% slag or other metals. The slag is typically removed because it can be sold to other industries and because it cannot be further refined.

The next process in nickel smelting is refining the liquid matte, which is typically done by one of two processes. With fluid bed roasting, sulfides are added to the opaque liquid and the two are roasted together, ultimately leaving only the nickel metal. The other process is chloride-hydrogen reduction, in which the liquid matte is held at about 1.742°F (950°C) until a reaction from the heat occurs and the liquid matte turns into just nickel.

After the nickel smelting has been completed and the nickel has cooled, it is used for many different purposes. Nickel is commonly used as an alloying agent with steel and other metals, because it is corrosion resistant and has a high luster, or it is sold as is to other industries so that they can make various products. It is also used to hydrogenate vegetable oils, along with batteries and magnets.

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