Great Leaps forward

Nickel use supporting development

August 15, 2015


Two countries not mentioned in the first issue of Nickel magazine were China and India. Neither country was a major player in the international stainless steel market.

What a difference 30 years makes!

In 1985, India produced just over 1% of the world’s stainless steel, while China’s was much less. Today China stands as the largest stainless steel producer by far, with just over 50% of the world’s production, while India stands in a very respectable third spot, just behind Japan, but ahead of South Korea and the U.S. And while we may think of China and India as producers of standard commodity grades and lower end products, both countries are working hard to produce both higher alloyed nickel-containing stainless steels as well as nickel alloys. Two examples of applications in each country illustrate the large scale and innovative uses suited to their needs.


Stainless steel was first used for the shells of railcars in the U.S. in 1934, and has been widely adopted in North America, Australia and Japan.  Many countries, including India, had not used stainless steel due to its perceived high cost despite well-known attributes such as very low maintenance and long life.  Initial success came in 2002 with the Delhi Metro, and the use of Type 301LN (UNS S30153) for all coaches plus Type 304 (S30400) for the station furnishings and hardware.  There are now 143 fully functional stations in the system, with more in different phases of completion. Other metro systems followed suit using Type 301LN coaches, including Jaipur, Chennai, Bangalore and Kochi.  In addition, high speed passenger trains are now extensively being made using a combination of 300 and 400 series stainless steels at two new production facilities, with a projected volume of 4000 coaches per year.

Another small, but innovative application that can help hundreds of millions of Indian families is a forced air stove, components of which are made in 300 and 200 series austenitic stainless steels. Burning biomass such as wood, crop residue and cattle dung is very common in rural areas for cooking applications. Traditional stoves have incomplete combustion. This results in emissions of toxic gases which, in poorly ventilated kitchens, is estimated to result in half a million premature deaths annually in India, primarily women and children. By using forced air from a fan powered by batteries, there can be a 70% reduction in smoke, a 50% reduction in fuel consumption while cutting the cooking time in half. Designed by TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute), the technology has been approved by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and is available to stove manufacturers to use.


The rapid industrialisation of China has resulted in unacceptably high levels of pollution, especially air pollution. This is one of the major issues with which China is grappling, leading Premier Li Keqiang to declare ‘War on Pollution’  in March 2014.

A switch from gasoline powered vehicles to electric ones is a way to reduce air pollution in the major urban areas. Those batteries often contain nickel, either NMH (nickel metal hydride) or certain types of lithium ion batteries. (See story page 4) China was an early adopter of electric bikes, with over 120 million having been sold. While sales of all electric battery vehicles (BEVs) are still relatively low at just less than 60,000 vehicles in 2014, there are over 40 models currently to choose from in China. In addition, plug-in hybrid vehicles are also available, using batteries most often containing nickel.

In China, coal is still king—80% of its electricity is generated from this fuel (2014) and coal-fired power plants are still being built at a rate of one per week. One way to reduce the pollution burden is to build higher efficiency plants. Advanced Ultra Super Critical (AUSC) steam generation offers a solution. This technology is currently being worked on in China as well as in Europe, USA and Japan. (See Nickel Vol. 30 No. 1). These plants produce steam at 700 °C and higher, and mean that the standard steels are unsuitable. Both special nickel alloys and special stainless steels can handle the higher steam temperatures, allowing an efficiency of 50% or more. For the steam generator tubes, a modified 304 (9% nickel) with copper, niobium, nitrogen and boron additions shows promise for long term reliable performance.

Both India and China have developed rapidly since the first issue of Nickel magazine 30 years ago, showing increasing levels of innovation. And we can be sure that nickel will still be an important part of the economy of these nations for the future.

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With an aging population, demand is stronger than ever for pacemakers and defibrillators. With increased usage of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), it is important that permanent implants are made from non-magnetic materials, such as UNS R 30035.