Nickel is one of the most important elements on the periodic table. It has plenty of history, as well as a huge importance to society. Its has unique chemical, physical, and geological properties. Nickel is used commercially in abundance, as it is used anywhere from simple art products such as ceramics to complex structures such as tubing for desalination plants. It is even used in the American five-cent coin, the “nickel”.
Nickel was discovered by Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, in Sweden, during the year 1751. Mr. Cronstedt discovered nickel in a mineral called niccolite. He originally planned to extract copper from this new mineral but got none at all. This is why nickel, at first, was called “false copper”. Instead, Cronstedt got a silvery-white metal, which was eventually used for other things. The origin of the name “nickel” is a derivative from the German word “kupfernickel”, meaning “Devil’s Copper” or “St. Nicholas’s Copper”.
The chemical properties of nickel are as follows: Nickel has the atomic number of twenty-eight. The atomic symbol of nickel, “Ni”. It has the atomic weight (mass) of 58.70, to be exact, 58.693. It occurs in five stable isotopes. Physically, nickel is a lustrous silvery-white and takes on a hard polish. It is a hard metal, malleable, ductile, and slightly ferromagnetic. Its melting point is at 2651 degrees F, and its boiling point is at 5275 degrees F. Also, nickel is a fairly good conductor of heat and electricity. Nickel belongs in the iron-cobalt group of metals and is chiefly valuable for the metallic alloys it forms. Biologically, nickel is a trace element for many species, including the human species. A human body contains 0.0000454 grams of nickel for every one pound.
Nickel is not found in too many places around the world. It is found mainly, and obtained commercially from pentlandite and pyrrhotite, in the Dudbury region of Ontario, Canada. The Dudbury region of Ontario produces roughly thirty percent of all the nickel used in the free world. Other nickel deposits are also found in New Caledonia, Australia, Cuba, Indonesia, and in small doses, various parts around the world.
Nickel occurs naturally in the places listed above, as well as in most meteorites that fall to the earth. Nickel is used as one of the most important criteria for distinguishing a meteorite, or remnants of one, from other minerals in the earth. Meteorites and siderites may contain a minimum of five percent and a maximum of twenty percent nickel.
Isolation – ” It is not normally necessary to make nickel in the laboratory as it is available readily commercially. Small amounts of pure nickel can be isolated in the laboratory through the purification of crude nickel with carbon monoxide. The intermediate in this process is the highly toxic nickel tetracarbonyl, Ni(CO)4. The carbonyl decomposes on heating to about 250C to form pure nickel powder. “” The Ni(CO)4 is a volatile complex which is easily flushed from the reaction vessel as a gas leaving the impurities behind. Industrially, the Mond process uses the same chemistry. Nickel oxides are reacted with “water gas”, a mixture of CO + H2). Reduction of the oxide with the hydrogen results in impure nickel. This reacts with the CO component of the water gas to make Ni(CO)4 as above. Thermal decomposition leaves pure nickel metal. “(http://www.webelements.com/webelements/elements/text/biol/Ni.html)
In terms of commercial uses, Nickel is valuable in many ways. Nickel is extensively used in making stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant alloys such as Invar, Inco, Montel, and Hastelloys. Tubing made out of nickel, as well as copper, is also extensively used in desalination plants, which convert seawater into fresh water. Also, Nickel is also commonly used in many countries for making coinage. For example, our five-cent coin is called a “nickel”, even though only twenty-five percent of every five-cent coin is actually nickel. Besides that, nickel is also in use for producing steel for armor plates used in armored trucks and burglarproof safes. Nickel is also added to glass products when a greenish color of glass is desired. This is done because nickel produces a green tint when combined with glass. Besides being added to glass, nickel is also added and combined with other metals to provide a protective coating.