Which countries have the highest nickel reserves in the world? Australia, Brazil and Russia are at the top of the list.
But investors should also be aware of which countries hold significant nickel reserves. Why? While many countries that produce large amounts of nickel have big nickel reserves, some countries produce little nickel, but have high reserves of the metal. It’s possible that in the future, they could become powerhouses in the space.
With that in mind, here’s an overview of the eight countries with the highest nickel reserves. Nickel reserves in countries outside these top eight total 20 million metric tonnes (MT), and total world nickel reserves stand at 95 million MT. All nickel reserves by country data is based on the US Geological Survey’s most recent report.
1. Australia and Indonesia
Reserves: 21 million MT each
Australia and Indonesia are tied for the highest nickel reserves in the world, each coming in at 21 million MT. While Australia is only the fifth largest nickel producer in the world, with 160,000 MT produced in 2021, Indonesia takes the top spot on that list as well, with 1 million MT of the metal produced in 2021.
Some top-producing nickel mines in Australia include BHP Billiton’s (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BHP) Nickel West assets, from which 85 percent of the nickel produced is sold to global battery material suppliers, and First Quantum Minerals' (TSX:FM,LSE:FQM) Ravensthorpe mine. In May 2021, First Quantum sold a 30 percent equity stake in the mine to South Korean steelmaker POSCO (NYSE:PKX,KRX:005490).
Indonesia’s nickel production has grown exponentially from 2017’s output of 345,000 MT. The effort is a part of the country’s work to build out its electric vehicle battery industry in the hopes of being a major supplier to China.
Reserves: 16 million MT
The next largest nickel reserves belong to Brazil, which has a total of 16 million MT. The country saw a rise in nickel production last year, with output expanding from 77,100 MT in 2020 to 100,000 MT in 2021. Even so, it still came in as the eighth largest nickel producer in the world.
Vale (NYSE:VALE) is based in Brazil, and is a major nickel producer in the country. Other companies mining and exploring for the base metal in the country include Anglo American (LSE:AAL,OTCQX:AAUKF) and Horizonte Minerals (TSX:HZM,OTC Pink:HZMMF).
Reserves: 7.5 million MT
Russia, the world’s third largest nickel producer in 2021, holds a vast amount of nickel reserves at 7.5 million MT. The country saw a production drop last year, putting out 250,000 MT compared to 283,000 MT in 2020.
Analysts are concerned about the impact of the Russia/Ukraine war on global nickel supply. For the most part, the country’s nickel production feeds into the steelmaking sector rather than the battery market.
However, “Russia plays an outsize role in nickel markets," the New York Times notes in an article. “Norilsk is among a limited number of companies authorized to sell a specialized form of nickel on the London Metal Exchange, which handles all nickel trading.”
Reserves: 4.8 million MT
Next on this nickel reserves list is the Philippines, coming in at 4.8 million MT. The country’s nickel production grew last year, rising from 334,000 MT in 2020 to 370,000 MT in 2021.
The country is home to 30 nickel-mining operations, and Nickel Asia is one of its leading nickel producers. Commodity analysts have predicted that nickel output in the Philippines may continue to grow over the next few years to reach about 500,000 MT in 2025.
Reserves: 2.8 million MT
China is another host country to one of the largest nickel reserves in the world, coming in at 2.8 million MT. The country’s nickel production in 2021 was on par with the previous year, totaling 210,000 MT in both years.
Although China is fifth in terms of nickel reserves and only seventh for production, the Asian nation plays a significant role in nickel pricing due to the commodity’s role in stainless steel production. China is both the largest steel-producing country and the largest consumer of the alloy metal.
Reserves: 2 million MT
Next up on this list of largest nickel reserves is Canada with its chest of 2 million MT of nickel. The country also ranks as the sixth largest nickel producer, with output of 130,000 MT in 2021.
Canada’s key nickel mines include Vale’s Sudbury, Thompson and Voisey’s Bay operations, and Glencore’s (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF) Raglan mine in Quebec and Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations in Ontario.
7. United States
Last on this largest nickel reserves list is the US, which hosts nickel reserves of 340,000 MT. With much less nickel in its back pocket than the other nations here, the US is also at the bottom when it comes to the world’s largest nickel producers. In 2021, the country’s nickel output came in at 18,000 MT, a slight increase from the year before.
The US has only one primary nickel operation: Lundin Mining’s (TSX:LUN,OTC Pink:LUNMF) Eagle mine, located on the Yellow Dog Plains in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Where’s New Caledonia?
New Caledonia was once listed as a country with high nickel reserves, but is no longer included in the US Geological Survey's report; its reserves were shelved in 2018 due to a lack of economic viability. However, New Caledonia is still the fourth largest nickel-producing country in the world, with output of 190,000 MT in 2021.
Historically, the country’s South Pacific French Territory has resisted selling nickel ore directly to large nickel-consuming countries such as China in order to preserve its domestic smelting and refining industry, which is one of its key sources of revenue.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
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