Nickel has long been a highly versatile metal, but in recent times it has become a crucial component of the energy transition. According to International Energy Agency (IEA) predictions, demand for nickel will rise significantly, by around 65%, by the end of this decade.

Global nickel reserves as of January 2023 were 102.1 million tonnes (mt), according to a GlobalData report citing US Geological Survey data. The majority of these reserves are found in Indonesia and Australia, which accounted for 20.6% of the global total each, followed by Brazil (15.7%), Russia (7.3%) and New Caledonia (7%). The Philippines and Canada collectively held 6.9% of the global total.

The report states that average global nickel prices during the third quarter (Q3) of 2023 were $22,942/mt, 11.6% lower than the same period in 2022. The price decline is attributed to weak demand from China’s battery sector and increasing nickel supply, especially from Indonesia.

The report predicts that nickel prices will decrease by 14% in 2023 and another 10% in 2024, mainly due to the expected increase in supply from Indonesia and the Philippines, but that growing demand for electric vehicles (EVs) will boost global nickel prices in 2025.

Many clean energy technologies experiencing rapid growth, such as EVs, wind turbines and electricity networks, require critical minerals including lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper and rare earth elements. As clean energy transitions continue to gain momentum, demand for these minerals is increasing rapidly, the IEA said.

Here, we take a closer look at the top ten nickel-producing countries in 2023, including reserves and key companies, based on research from GlobalData.

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1. Indonesia

Indonesia is the world's largest nickel producer, with reserves of 21mt, accounting for 20.6% of the global total. The country produced 1.72mt, up 21.1% from 1.42mt in 2022. The country's saprolite deposits contain higher-grade nickel ores, while limonite deposits contain low-grade nickel ore. Some of the prominent mines in Indonesia include Pakal Island, Bahoomahi, Gag Island, Pomalaa and Tapunopaka, which are rich in nickel ore resources.

Global nickel production was expected to increase to 3.37mt in 2023, an increase of 10.2% over 2022, with Indonesia contributing most of this rise.

In 2022, Indonesia and the Philippines accounted for 58.2% of global nickel output. GlobalData anticipates that their dominance in nickel production will continue in the coming years. Indonesia's progress heavily influences the future nickel supply and is projected to contribute around 50% of global production growth until 2030.

GlobalData expects the Weda Bay project to drive Indonesia's nickel production between 2023 and 2026, with its developers aiming to double sales volume. However, the report says that corruption in nickel ore mining, regulatory actions and ESG issues pose challenges. Authorities have investigated illegal nickel ore shipments to China worth S$1.3bn (Rp14.5trn) since 2020, suspending approval for ore mining quotas.

2. Philippines

The Philippines is a major player in the nickel market, producing an estimated 360,000 tons (t) of contained nickel in 2022, which accounts for 11% of global production. The country's production increased by 1.4% to 365,100t in 2023, up 1.4% over 2022.

In 2023, the growth rate in the nickel sector increased significantly due to output from Nickel Asia's Taganito and Cagdianao mines, the largest nickel suppliers in the country. The country is devising strategies to attract more investors to cater to the growing demand for nickel ore.

The Philippines' nickel supply is expected to increase between 2023 and 2025 and stabilise due to mine closures, including the Libjo Laterite Mining Project (2026), the Cagdianao Mine (2025), and ore reserve depletion.

3. Russia

Russia’s production stood at 220,000t in 2022 and fell by 0.5% to 218,900t in 2023. The decline was primarily due to expected lower production from the country’s largest nickel producer, Norilsk Nickel, amid scheduled repairs of furnaces at the Nadezhda Smelter and a grinding mill at the Talnakh Concentrator in Q1 2023. The company produced 219,000t of nickel in 2022, up 13.5% from 193,000t in 2021.

In April 2023, Nornickel launched an advanced operations planning, organisation and control centre at Mayak Mine, Polar Division, making it the fifth mine to have this technology. This digitalisation technology provides real-time monitoring of all processes underground and on the surface, quality control and 24/7 planning capabilities.

4. New Caledonia

New Caledonia produced 193,800t of nickel in 2023, up from 190,000t in 2022.

Over the five years to 2021, production from New Caledonia decreased by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.1% and is expected to rise by a CAGR of 2% between 2022 and 2026. The leading nickel producers in 2022 were Eramet, Vale, Glencore and Sumitomo Metal Mining. During 2020–21, Eramet's output decreased by 5%, Vale's output decreased by 22% and Glencore's output decreased by 7%.

5. Australia

Australia produced 158,100t of nickel in 2023, compared with 154,400t in 2022. Australia possesses the world's second-largest nickel reserves at 21 million tonnes or 20.6% of the global total. These reserves are mainly from Western Australia, and comprise both sulphide and lateritic deposits. The majority of production comes from sulphide deposits.

The Kambalda deposit was the first significant nickel sulphide deposit to be discovered, with other deposits being found around Mount Keith, Perseverance and Yakabindie. The Murrin Murrin and Ravensthorpe mines are the largest lateritic nickel mines. In terms of ore reserves, the Mount Keith mine has the biggest reserve, with 1.45mt in 2020. Other noteworthy mines include the Leinster, Nova Bollinger, Spotted Quoll, Cassini, Avebury and Cliffs mines.

BHP, an Australian mining company, produced 75,900t of nickel in 2022. In July 2022, the company signed a multi-year nickel supply deal with Ford Motor Company, which is expected to begin operating in 2025. BHP also signed a supply agreement with Tesla in July 2021, aiming to explore the possibility of creating more sustainable and efficient battery supply chains.

6. Canada

Canada produced 132,400t of nickel in 2023, down by 7.6% from 143,300t in 2022, due to lower output from Glencore's Raglan and Sudbury Area mines. GlobalData estimates the country’s nickel production will fall further to 110,000t in 2024.

Glencore is the sole proprietor of the Onaping Depth project in Canada, which is currently in construction. The project is set to commence operations in 2025 and has an annual production capacity of 20,000t of saleable nickel. It is designed to provide high-quality nickel ore beyond 2035 to meet the needs of the low-carbon economy, with the project’s capital expenditure around $1.3bn (C$1.76bn).

Canada’s Tartisan Nickel company owns the Kenbridge project, a developing mine in Canada currently under construction. In March 2023, the company hired Nordmin Engineering to oversee Kenbridge's exploration and development activities. The company plans to start operating in 2024 with an annual saleable production capacity of 5,700t.

7. China

China, the seventh-largest nickel producer, produced an estimated 110,400t in 2023, compared to 110,000t in 2022. China and Indonesia rank second and third, respectively, as the world's largest nickel pig iron producers (NPI). NPI is a low-grade ferronickel developed in China as a cheaper alternative to pure nickel for producing stainless steel.

In 2022, China's NPI production accounted for 26.9% of the global total. According to Norilsk Nickel, China's NPI production in 2022 was 421,000t, which decreased by 1.2% from the previous year. The decline was primarily due to higher imports of Indonesian NPI and limited growth in stainless steel production.

Chinese companies are investing in and establishing their own NPI facilities in Indonesia and then re-exporting production back to China due to Indonesia's ban on exporting raw nickel materials.

8. Brazil

Brazil is the eighth-largest nickel producer with an output of 84,800t in 2023, an increment of 2.6% from 83,000t produced in 2022. Its reserves amounted to 16mt, 15.7% of the global total in 2022. The Barro Alto mine is the country's largest mine for ore reserves, with 554,000t by the end of 2022. The country’s other key operating mines include Santa Rita, Codemin and Onca Puma.

The Araguaia Nickel project, owned by Horizonte Minerals, is currently under construction. It has an annual saleable production capacity of 29,000t and is set to commence operations in 2024, with the first metal production expected in Q1 2024. The mine life of the project is 28 years.

In Brazil, the top nickel producers are Anglo-American and Vale. From 2020 to 2021, Anglo American's production decreased by 4%, while Vale's output decreased by 22%.

In July 2023, Vale signed a binding agreement with Manara Minerals and Engine No. 1 to strengthen its energy transition metals business. As part of the deal, Vale will invest $25bn–30bn in the business, which is expected to increase the supply of copper from the current 350,000t per year to 900,000t per year and nickel supply to 300,000t per annum from 175,000t in 2022.

9. Cuba

Nickel production in Cuba decreased by 2.5% to 45,200t in 2023 from 46,400t in 2022. GlobalData estimates show production is expected to increase to 45,900t in 2024 and 46,100t in 2025.

The Moa Joint Venture produces class I nickel and high-grade cobalt products in Moa, Cuba and Fort Saskatchewan (Alberta, Canada). Moa uses an open-pit mining process to mine lateritic ore, which is processed using high-pressure acid leaching on-site into mixed sulphides containing nickel and cobalt, with a total nickel production of 32,300t in 2022.

10. Other countries

Other, smaller nickel-producing countries produced 342,100t in 2023, up from 331,300t in 2022.

One of the major developing projects in 2023, the Platreef Project in South Africa, owned by Ivanhoe Mines, is set to be the world's largest low-cost producer of platinum group metals including copper, nickel and gold. The project is under construction and scheduled to commence in Q3 2024, with an annual production capacity of 101,000t and a mine life of up to 32 years.

Tharisa and Leto Settlement Trust, along with the Government of Zimbabwe, own the Karo Platinum Project, a major project in Zimbabwe. The project is currently under construction, with the first ore expected to come from the mine in July 2024. The project will have an annual capacity of 1,300t of nickel.