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Nickel is widely used in stainless steel, electroplating, battery, chemical industry and other fields due to its good mechanical strength, ductility and high chemical stability. It basically covers various industries from civil products to aerospace, missiles, submarines, nuclear reactors and so on.

Nickel is known as "industrial vitamin", stainless steel is its first major consumption field, the consumption of this field accounts for up to 70% of the world, widely used in industrial machinery manufacturing, household goods and aerospace, tank ships, nuclear reactors and other fields.

16% of nickel consumption is used in alloys other than stainless steel, because the addition of nickel to alloys gives them high strength at high temperatures and some oxidation and corrosion resistance. Nickel is also commonly used as protective decorative coatings, accounting for 8% of consumption in this field.

Nickel and nickel metal hydride batteries, nickel-cadmium batteries, three yuan is the important raw material for lithium ion batteries and various battery material, in portable devices, electric vehicles, energy storage batteries, and other fields have a wide application, the current batteries nickel consumption accounted for only 5%, but due to the electric car industry, industrial energy storage industry fast development, the nickel demand huge potential in the field of battery.

Nickel is also often used as hydrogenation catalyst and permanent magnet material for electronic remote control, atomic energy industry and ultrasonic technology.

Statistics from the International Nickel Industry Research Organization show that by 2020, stainless steel and alloy consumption of primary nickel in the world accounted for 78% of the total consumption, and nickel consumption in the battery field accounted for 5%. China's stainless steel consumption of nickel is larger, stainless steel alone accounts for 84% of the total consumption of domestic primary nickel, battery nickel consumption is only 3%, nickel for electroplating accounted for 7%.

According to data released by the Global Bureau of Metals Statistics (WBMS), refined nickel consumption fell 3.8% in 2020 from 2019 to 2,353,700 tonnes. In january-July 2021, global consumption of refined nickel rose to 1.592 million tons, up 49.6% from the same period in 2019, which was 1.383 million tons. In terms of statistics, GMS counts pure nickel, ferric nickel and nickel sulfate in the total consumption of refined nickel.

Stainless steel consumption may contract slightly

Stainless steel refers to alloy with rust resistance under atmospheric conditions and corrosion resistance in a variety of liquid media. According to the current national standards, stainless steel refers to stainless steel, corrosion resistance as the main characteristics and chromium content in 10.5% or more, carbon below 1.2% steel.

Common stainless steel products on the market, according to the composition can be divided into Cr stainless steel (400 series), CR-Ni stainless steel (300 series), CR-Mn-Ni stainless steel (200 series). Generally, the 200 series products are mid - and low-end products, while the 300 and 400 series are mid - and high-end products. In the global stainless steel production in 2020, 200 series accounted for 25.2%, 300 series accounted for 52.45%, 400 series accounted for 22.35%.

According to Mysteel's incomplete statistics, China's existing stainless steel annual capacity of about 40 million tons, the main production capacity concentrated in Fujian, Guangxi, Guangdong, Shanxi, Jiangsu and other provinces. The capacity of steel mills in the top five production bases accounts for as much as 77%, and private steel mills are the leading force.

In China's existing steelmaking structure, 200 series of stainless steel production accounted for about 33%, 300 series of stainless steel production accounted for about 52%, and 400 series of stainless steel production accounted for about 15%. The proportion of 300 series stainless steel is lower than the global (excluding China)300 series stainless steel proportion of about 4%, showing that China in the consumption level of high-grade stainless steel and the world level there is a certain gap.

According to Mysteel statistics, China's 32 stainless steel plants produced 32.446,600 tons of crude steel in 2021, up 8.74% year-on-year. Among them, the production of 200 series was 9,796,200 tons, up 1.82% year on year; The output of 300 series was 16.366,600 tons, up 10.97% year on year. Production of 400 series was 6.283,800 tons, up 14.9% year on year.

According to the statistics of Mysteel, the domestic stainless steel production capacity will be increased by 7.18 million tons in 2022, and the current production capacity can be confirmed to be 3.52 million tons, including 2.22 million tons for 3 series and 1.3 million tons for 4 series. The above production capacity will be released in the first half of 2022.

According to a report by MEPS, a British steel consultancy, the global crude steel production of stainless steel is expected to reach 56.5 million tons in 2021, up 11% year-on-year from 50.89 million tons in 2020, which will hit the highest year-on-year growth in nearly 10 years. Global stainless steel production is expected to fall to 4% year-on-year growth in 2022.

In the future, whether China's new stainless steel production capacity will be put into production depends on the profits of stainless steel and domestic carbon reduction policies. Data show that in January 2022, stainless steel losses, resulting in a large number of mills to reduce production. Survey data show that in January, 200 series of stainless steel maintenance production of about 300,000 tons, about 35% of the 200 series of stainless steel monthly output; 300 series stainless steel maintenance production of about 255,000 tons, about 17% of the 300 series stainless steel monthly output.

Battery grade nickel sulfate consumption

It will continue to grow rapidly but there are variables

Nickel sulfate can be divided into electroplating grade nickel sulfate (nickel 22.2%, cobalt 0.05% Max) and battery grade nickel sulfate (nickel 22.2%, cobalt 0.4%) two categories according to the use, of which, electroplating grade accounted for 20%, battery grade accounted for 80%. Battery grade nickel sulfate is the source of nickel metal in ternary materials. Nickel-cobalt-aluminum hydroxide (NCA) and nickel-cobalt-manganese hydroxide (NCM) can be prepared from battery-grade nickel sulfate. Ternary precursors are the main components of lithium nickel-cobalt-manganate ternary materials, which are the main components of the cathode materials of lithium batteries.

From the current lithium battery market, the cathode material has a direct impact on the energy storage density, cycle life and safety of the battery. Common cathode materials can be divided into four types: lithium cobalt acid (LCO), lithium manganese acid (LMO), lithium iron phosphate (LFP) and ternary materials (including NCM and NCA). The poor safety performance and relatively low capacity of lithium cobalt oxide material greatly limit its application range. The dissolution of manganese ions in high temperature cycle of lithium manganate materials results in severe capacity attenuation. Although lithium iron phosphate is first used in electric vehicles due to its low price, good cycling performance and high safety, its poor conductivity and low vibration density limit the battery energy density. The ternary materials combine the advantages of lithium cobalt, lithium nickel and lithium manganese (lithium aluminate), and have the best theoretical capacity and energy density.

Nickel and cobalt are the main electroactive atoms in ternary materials. Nickel provides capacity function. The higher the nickel content, the higher the energy density of the battery. Cobalt contributes part of the capacity while stabilizing the structure, improving the electronic conductivity and cycling properties of the material. Manganese and aluminum stabilize the structure and reduce the cost of materials. Therefore, in order to continuously improve the specific capacity of the material, it is necessary to develop in the direction of high nickelization and high voltage. Hypernickelization of ternary materials refers to the increase of nickel content, including NCM622, NCM811 system and NCA system. NCA material has high nickel content, similar energy density to NCM811, and close compaction density to NCM523.

The proportion of NCO manganese in nCO manganese ternary cathode material can be adjusted in a certain range, and its properties change with the different proportion of NCO Manganese. Therefore, in order to further reduce the content of high-cost transition metals such as cobalt and nickel, and to further improve the performance of cathode materials, many countries in the world have done a lot of work in the research and development of nickel-cobalt-Manganese ternary materials, and put forward a number of ternary materials with different proportions of Nickel, cobalt and manganese.

Ternary lithium batteries are mainly divided into two technical routes: Nickel-cobalt-Manganese (NCM) and nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA).

However, due to the high price of nickel and cobalt in ternary lithium batteries, the growth momentum of lithium iron phosphate batteries will exceed that of ternary lithium batteries in 2021, which may mean that there is a variable driving force of lithium batteries on nickel consumption in 2022. According to data released by the Power Battery Innovation Alliance, power battery production exceeded 219.7GWh in 2021, up 163.4% year on year. Among them, the ternary battery did not break 100GWh, but also high at 93.9GWh; The production of lithium iron phosphate battery was 125.4GWh, accounting for 57.1%, up 262.9% year on year. Lithium iron phosphate overwhelms the growth of ternary batteries.

In 2021, pure electric passenger cars used 121.73GWh batteries, accounting for 78.7%; The annual demand of pure electric bus, pure electric special vehicle and plug-in hybrid passenger vehicle is 10-12GWH respectively. It can be said that the power battery field is highly concentrated in the passenger car market.

Looking at vehicles delivered in December last year, Tesla, BYD and Wuling have rapidly lithium iron (above 75 percent), followed by Changan and Euler (above 40 percent). While most other automotive enterprises are still in the planning stage, mainly limited by the capacity of lithium iron phosphate and vehicle switching speed.

At present, the energy density of lithium iron phosphate battery system is mostly below 140Wh/kg. Compared with ternary battery, there is still some gap, because the energy density of some ternary batteries has exceeded 200Wh/kg. Why do lithium iron phosphate batteries grow more than ternary batteries when their energy density is not as high as ternary batteries?

The author believes that it may be the problem of the decline of new energy vehicle subsidies. Ternary battery systems do have some advantages in terms of energy density, but the biggest problem is the overall cost performance. A pure electric car with three batteries can have a range of 700 kilometers, but it basically relies on a battery of about 100kWh. Within 20kWh, in the absence of government subsidies, new energy vehicles have more advantages in terms of safety and cost than new energy loaded with lithium iron phosphate batteries. As the cost pressure intensifies in 2022, automotive companies need to switch to lithium iron phosphate on a large scale in order to effectively cope with the cost problem.


In the short term, due to the low inventory of pure nickel, the output of primary nickel products, such as nickel bean and electrolytic nickel, has stagnated or even contracted in all kinds of primary nickel products in the past 10 years. The increase of global primary nickel products mainly comes from nickel pig iron. A lack of growth in the supply of pure nickel, which is the underlying underlying nickel contract, is likely to be a big factor in the price rise.

In terms of nickel and iron, on the one hand, due to the influence of domestic policies such as double control of energy consumption and power rationing, the domestic nickel and iron production in 2021 will be significantly reduced compared with that in 2020, with a year-on-year decrease of 18% in terms of nickel element. On the other hand, the year-on-year growth rate of nickel and iron imports in 2021 is also lower than that in 2020, which will further lead to the contraction of nickel supply. It is expected that the output of nickel and iron in China will rise in 2022, because the double control of energy consumption will no longer appear "one-size-fits-all" to the countryside. In terms of nickel sulfate, the conversion of ferric nickel to high matte nickel in 2021 has not been expanded, but the possibility of accelerating production in 2022 cannot be ruled out.

From the point of demand, nickel in the field of new energy vehicles power battery growth will maintain rapid growth, because of the 2022 new energy vehicles will also further enhance the permeability of, but in the case of government subsidies of landslide, the amount of new energy vehicles equipped with lithium iron phosphate battery for more than three yuan growth, which may lead to nickel consumption growth in 2022 was less than expected.

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