Nickel is one of transition metals that is largely used in many applications. Its versatility is more favorable than other metals in Earth. Nickel is a chemical element which falls into the transition metal category. The symbol Ni and atomic number 28 signify nickel’s presence on the periodic table. Being a metal, nickel is sturdy yet pliable. It can be deformed and stretched into wires.
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Axel Fredrik Cronstedt was a Swedish chemist who managed to discover and isolate nickel. He first thought nickel as the part of copper family since it has similar physical appearances. The name nickel is derived from German word kupfernickel. Even though Cronstedt was the first person who isolated nickel, the transition metal itself has been used since millennia ago by ancient civilizations. Nickel is the fifth most common chemical element on Earth. Several countries or regions with large nickel deposits are New Caledonia, Western Australia, Indonesia (especially in Sulawesi and Halmahera), South America and the Philippines. A large amount of nickel deposits is believed to be present in the Earth’s outer and inner cores. Astronomers believe that there are a large amount of nickel in meteors and some of them who have already landed on Earth turn the area into a big nickel deposit.
Nickel is tough against corrosion as it can prevent the process by forming a layer on the surface area when it is oxidized by air in room temperature. Alongside gadolinium, iron and cobalt, nickel is a magnetic metal. This means that nickel is strongly attracted to magnet even though it is the weakest compared to three other metals mentioned before. But nickel will become non-magnetic when it is heated to 355 °C or above. This element is an average electrical and heat conductor. Nickel can be obtained through conventional extraction method and can be purified through several metallurgical processes. Even though nickel can be easily purified, many sectors combine this metal with other elements to reap more of its benefits.
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It is clear that nickel has its own merits among other transition metals. Materials that contain nickel are common in automotive industry, electronic devices and even building constructions. Here are the most common uses of nickel in everyday life:
- Nickel in vehicles
The first uses of nickel in everyday life is the main compound for vehicles. A lot of modern vehicles contain nickel in the form of stainless steels. It has become one of the most essential components in steel industry. Automobile manufacturing companies rely on stainless steel because it is famous for its resistance against corrosion and it is less heavy compared to other metals yet has a very strong build. Stainless steel minimizes corrosion in different parts of a vehicle and can absorb energy from crash or bumps.
In order to produce stainless steels, the manufacturers usually combine this element with other ingredients. Austenitic 200 series, for example, uses 16% chromium and a few amount of combination of manganese and nickel. This type of stainless steel has impressive track record against heat and unfriendly environment. A couple versions of austenitic stainless steels are used as truck bodies, exhaust systems in cars and many more. As mentioned above, nickel (or in particular stainless steels) is resistant to high temperature and this behavior is useful in blocking fire from spreading to other parts of a vehicle.
Other than stainless steel other types of nickel alloys are also present in vehicles. Nickel-chromium alloy is usually used as coating in cars. Tesla CEO and philanthropy Elon Musk stated in 2016 that his electric-powered cars use lithium ion batteries made of nickel and graphite. Alloys that contain nickel and aluminum are used in piston and cylinder parts.
Meanwhile, the automotive industry is eager to propose nickel alloy foam to reduce gas emissions. Many believe that this alloy can reduce carbon monoxide and other greenhouse gases produced by vehicles. A hope for a greener future heavily depends on how scientists can utilize these benefits that nickel possesses.
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- Nickel in architecture and constructions
Stainless steels and other nickel alloys have been used since centuries ago. Humans rely on strong abodes to protect themselves from danger. Their safety becomes the foremost matter when it comes to constructions. Famous buildings in the world such as the Chrysler and Empire States Building have lasted more than fifty years thanks to nickel-based stainless steel.
There are 730 tons of aluminum and stainless steels that support Empire State Building to this day. It became the world’s tallest building from its completion until 1972. The 102-story skyscraper can withstand severe environmental condition because stainless steel’s part in the construction.
Fire has always become a worrisome concern pertaining to constructions. If architects or other experts in constructions choose the wrong materials, life will be at the stake. Therefore, the construction industry needs a series of tests and researches before deciding what materials are best as components. In 1990, G. Waller and David J. Cochrane conducted an experiment to learn about the durability, safety and fire-resistance of stainless steel. They used glass-reinforced plastics (GRP), galvanized mild steel and austenitic stainless steel Type 316 to find the desirable result from this test.
Later, they found that GRP and galvanized mild steel cannot stand exposure of 550-557 °C ignition while stainless steel remained in perfect condition for several hours before it began to crumble. The structures of GRP and galvanized mild steel would lose its shape even before the burners reached their intended temperature. (You can also read: Fireworks Elements)
Their study has proven that nickel-based stainless steel and other alloys play an important part in the construction world. Buildings will catch fire easily if the materials cannot withstand heat. Constructions will also collapse in just a few years if the materials are not resistant to corrosion. However, that’s one of the important uses of nickel in everyday life.
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- Nickel in military, aerospace and marine applications
During the World Wars and Cold Wars, the production of weapons increased significantly as the warring countries compete in order to become the victor. Nickel deposits across the world became the center of attention as nickel and other transition metals were very important in the making of weapons and war vehicles. Moreover, during the ancient time, the Romans used nickel as a component in their armors and the Americans in 1890 found out that alloy with nickel and steel in it was the perfect material to use for armor plates.
Nickel-steel alloy then continued its popularity throughout the World Wars as many countries started using this material for their warships. The demands of nickel rapidly increased and several breakthroughs were discovered. Nickel-based armor plates for tanks and aircrafts become the front guards for the military. The Germans used nickel-iron alloy to build portable bridge during the World War II.
After realizing the importance of nickel in military and transportation applications, Western engineers started using nickel alloys in the aerospace industry. Adding other metals into nickel alloys showed a satisfying result as it could increase the heat tolerance. NASA used nickel on the surface of Lunar Module in order to protect the entire space craft from the Sun’s heat. Lastly, without these nickel-based alloys, sea vehicles would not be able to travel across the open seas because salt water can cause metals to corrode faster.
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- Nickel in electronics
Nickel has become an important component in electronic devices. The application of nickel in electronics varies a lot, from nanotechnology to gigantic electronic parts. As mentioned above, electric-powered cars use nickel in their batteries. Gadgets such as smartphone and laptops we usually use also contain nickel in some parts. Nickel is used in a special layer in compact discs as coating. Thus, nickel becomes one of essential metals in the electronic industry.
However, several reports and study haven proven that some people are allergic to nickel coating on their devices. One can get rashes from nickel allergy. Even though it is not fatal, rashes can be very annoying. A consultation to dermatologist is advised for someone who is allergic to nickel.
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- Other products that contain nickel
Nickel is almost as ubiquitous as iron since the production is also big. Nickel can be found in coins in several currencies such as Indonesia. During the 1950, Indonesian coins mostly contained aluminum for a number of values. But the 50 cent coins was the only value that contained copper-nickel in it. Nickel is still used in some values to this day with the most recent one being Rp1,000 coin. It contains nickel-plated steel.
Nickel is also used for plating and to give green tint in glass. But the presence of nickel in toughened glass can result in unexpected failure. When nickel contaminants react to sulphur in the glass melt, nickel sulphide will form crystalline and then cause hairline cracks to appear.
Thus, there are many common uses of nickel in everyday life, that is important for the basic compound of electronic, military, aerospace and marine applications.
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