How to Smelt Nickel

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Nickel is a silvery-white metal that is commonly used in coins, the plating of other metal like brass and iron, and in the manufacture of alloys such as nickel steel. To prepare nickel for use, it must first be smelted, extracting the pure metal from one of its ores.

Things You'll Need

  • Nickel ore
  • Smelting furnace
  • Roasting furnace

Obtain nickel ore. Some of the ores in which nickel is commonly found include garnierite (also called serpentine), gaspeite, nepouite (another variety of serpentine), iron-nickel and rammelsbergite.

Locate a furnace. Not many people have a furnace capable of reaching the temperatures needed to smelt nickel, so this will most likely be an industrial process. Nickel is commonly heated in the furnace through a technique called flash smelting. With flash smelting, electricity is used in combination with a high-oxygen, or all-oxygen, atmosphere to obtain extremely high temperatures. Nickel melts at 1453 degrees Celsius, so if you are doing this at home, please keep anything flammable out of the way.

Introduce the ore into the smelting furnace. The ore is heated at very high temperatures until it produces a substance called liquid matte. Liquid matte is normally about 45% nickel and is produced by flash smelting together with some slag, or metal byproduct. You will simply be putting the slag on the side. There are many industrial uses for slag. You can sell it, but it is of no use in the further refining of your supply of liquid matte.

Refine the liquid nickel matte. To do this you can use one of a number of processes. The most common are fluid bed roasting and chloride-hydrogen reduction. For fluid roasting, you will also need a high heat furnace and some calcine agglomerate particles. The nickel matte is placed on the calcine agglomerate and heated. The sulfides are roasted, and you are left with nickel. With the chloride-hydrogen reduction technique, temperatures of 850 to 950 degrees Celsius are also used to produce a reaction that will eventually result in the production of nickel.

Once the nickel is refined, you can put it to many uses. Nickel steel is commonly used in industry, as are many alloys. Nickel takes a high polish and is very resistant to corrosion at normal temperatures. And, of course, you can always make coins, but just make sure you do not try to put them into circulation. Smelting is not about counterfeiting.

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