Indonesia, the Philippines and Russia were the top nickel-producing countries in 2019. Find out which other nations made the list.
As the electric vehicle (EV) industry continues to boom, the future of nickel looks bright in the coming years, and activity in the world’s top nickel-producing countries could increase.
With demand for the commodity continuing to grow, companies and countries alike have been eager to jump on the production bandwagon.
Having said that, it’s worth keeping the top nickel nations in mind. Scroll on to see our list of the 10 top nickel-producing countries of 2019, based on the latest data from the US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 800,000 MT
Claiming first place for production last year, Indonesia has been a prime example of a country wanting to get in on the nickel hype. In early 2019, it was reported that the country’s nickel industry could soon overshadow palm oil, Indonesia’s second-largest export.
With the country’s close proximity to China, the world’s current leader in EV manufacturing, it makes for an ideal setup. Having grown tremendously from 2017’s production of 345,000 metric tons (MT), the country also hosts 21 million MT in reserves.
Mine production: 420,000 MT
The Philippines has been one of the top nickel-producing countries and a nickel ore exporter for quite some time. Despite taking a small hit between 2017 and 2018, when nickel production fell from 366,000 MT to 340,000 MT, the top nation increased its output to 420,000 MT in 2019.
Another country with close proximity to China, the Philippines currently has 30 nickel mines. However, reports surfaced last year from major producer DMCI Mining that it would be in for a tough 2019 with the government suspension of two of its mines. One has since reopened, but the other remains shuttered; the two collectively account for 2 percent of the country’s nickel output.
Mine production: 270,000 MT
Even though it regained the third spot in 2019, Russia saw a small drop in nickel production from 2018; having produced 272,000 MT previously, 2019 saw the nation’s output hit 270,000 MT.
Norilsk Nickel (OTC Pink:NILSY,MCX:GMKN), one of the world’s largest nickel and palladium producers, performed well last year. A production report on the company’s 2019 results shows that its total nickel output increased 5 percent year-on-year to 229,000 tonnes.
4. New Caledonia
Mine production: 220,000 MT
The French country just off the coast of Australia saw its production increase slightly from 2018, rising from 216,000 MT to 220,000 MT.
New Caledonia resisted selling nickel ore directly to large nickel-consuming countries such as China in the past in order to preserve its domestic smelting and refining industry, which is a key source of revenue. However, in December 2016, the New Caledonian government approved requests from nickel miners to export over 2 million additional tonnes of ore to China. The country’s economy is now at risk as it depends heavily on the price of nickel.
In late 2018, major miner Vale (NYSE:VALE) announced that it would be investing $500 million into its New Caledonia nickel mine between 2019 and 2022. But things changed in late 2019, when the company announced it would be divesting its assets in the country and turning its efforts to Indonesia. Australia’s New Century Resources (ASX:NCZ) is the main contender to buy Vale’s operations in New Caledonia.
Mine production: 180,000 MT
Australia, another of the top nickel-producing countries, saw its production increase from 170,000 MT in 2018 to 180,000 MT in 2019. Some top-producing players in the country include BHP (NYSE:BHP,ASX;BHP,LSE:BHP) with its 100 percent owned Nickel West division. The company recently announced its plans to continue growing and investing in the operation as demand for nickel rages on.
After nickel’s devastating price crash from 2014 to 2016, a number of mines closed shop. However, as the commodity has recovered, miners down under are giving the base metal another chance. Those include Mincor Resources (ASX:MCR,OTC Pink:MCRZF), which has been actively working on a “nickel restart strategy” involving four deposits in Western Australia’s Kambalda region.
Mine production: 180,000 MT
Canada actually ties with Australia, as the country saw a slight increase in nickel production from 2018 to 2019; having produced 176,000 MT in 2018, 2019 saw output of 180,000 MT. The country’s Sudbury Basin is the second largest supplier of nickel ore in the world, and Vale’s Sudbury operation is located there. Every year it produces about 65,000 MT of the metal.
Another key nickel producer in Canada is Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF), which owns the Raglan mine in Quebec as well as Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations in Ontario. The latter’s operations include the Nickel Rim South mine, the Fraser mine, the Strathcona mill and the Sudbury smelter.
Mine production: 110,000 MT
From 2018 to 2019, China’s nickel production remained at the same level at 110,000 MT. In addition to being one of the top nickel-producing countries, China is the world’s leading producer of nickel pig iron, which is a low-grade ferronickel used in stainless steel. Jinchuan Group International (HKEX:2362) is the parent company of Jinchuan Group, which is a large nickel producer in China.
China also plays a large role in nickel pricing due to the commodity’s role in stainless steel production, which primarily takes place in the Asian nation.
Mine production: 67,000 MT
Brazil saw a decline in nickel production in 2019, with output decreasing from 74,400 MT to 67,000 MT. While Vale is a major producer based in Brazil, the company entered an agreement to swap out its Jaguar nickel project in the Carajás mineral province for Centaurus Metals’ (ASX:CTM) Salobo West copper–gold asset. The deal was completed in April 2020.
The project hosts a resource of 40.4 million tonnes at 0.78 percent nickel, totaling 315,000 tonnes of contained nickel.
Mine production: 51,000 MT
Also making the list of top 10 nickel countries is Cuba, which saw its output remain steady at 51,000 MT. According to Reuters, nickel is one of the top foreign exchange earners for Cuba’s troubled economy, and the country averaged production of around 74,000 tonnes annually in the decade after 2000.
Since then, revenue from nickel exports has trended downwards over the last few years on the back of lowered production and prices. The country exports to China, Europe and Canada
10. United States
Mine production: 14,000 MT
Lastly, US nickel output fell from 2018’s mark of 17,600 MT to 14,000 MT in 2019.
The Eagle mine is the only primary nickel-mining project in the US. The mine, which is located on the Yellow Dog Plains in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, is a small, high-grade nickel-mining and copper-mining project owned by Lundin Mining (TSX:LUN,OTC Pink:LUNMF).
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.