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About 65% of the nickel consumed in the Western World is used to make austenitic stainless steel. Another 12% goes into superalloys. The remaining 23% of consumption is divided between alloy steels, rechargeable batteries, catalysts and other chemicals, coinage, foundry products, and plating.
Stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant alloys.
Nickel steel is used for armor plates and burglar-proof vaults.
The alloy Alnico is used in magnets.
Mu-metal has an especially high magnetic permeability, and is used to screen magnetic fields.
Monel metal is a steel alloy highly resistant to corrosion, used for ship propellors, kitchen supplies, and chemical industry plumbing
Smart wire, or shape memory alloys, are used in robotics.
Rechargable batteries, such as nickel metal hydride batteries and nickel cadmium batteries.
Coinage. In the United States and Canada, nickel is used in five-cent coins called nickels. See also clad.
In crucibles for chemical laboratories.
Finely divided nickel is a catalyst for hydrogenating vegetable oils.
Nickel use is ancient, and can be traced back as far as 3500 BC. Bronzes from what is now Syria had a nickel content of up to two percent. Further, there are Chinese manuscripts suggesting that "white copper" (e.g. paitung) was used in the Orient between 1400 and 1700 BC. However, because the ores of nickel were easily mistaken for ores of silver, any understanding of this metal and its use dates to more contemporary times.
Minerals containing nickel (e.g. kupfernickel, or false copper) were of value for coloring glass green. In 1751, Baron Axel Frederik Cronstedt was attempting to extract copper from kupfernickel (now called niccolite), and obtained instead a white metal that he called nickel.
The first nickel coin of the pure metal was made in 1881.
Many but not all hydrogenases contain nickel in addition to iron-sulphur clusters. Nickel centers are a common element in those hydrogenases whose function is to oxidize rather than evolve hydrogen. The nickel center appears to undergo changes in oxidation state, and evidence has been presented that the nickel center might be the active site of these enzymes.
A nickel-tetrapyrrole coenzyme, Co-F430, is present in the methyl CoM reductase and in methanogenic bacteria. The tetrapyrrole is intermediate in structure between porphyrin and corrin. Changes in redox state, as well as changes in nickel coordination, have recently been observed.
There is also a nickel-containing carbon monoxide dehydrogenase. Little is known about the structure of the nickel site.