What is the Difference Between Copper and Nickel

Copper and nickel, two commonly used metals, often get mixed up due to their shared characteristics. Both metals play crucial roles in modern infrastructure and technology, contributing significantly to global economies and daily life.

What is the difference between copper and nickel? Copper typically has a reddish-orange hue and develops a greenish patina over time when exposed to air, while nickel has a silver-white color.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Copper  
      – Definition, Features, Applications
2. What is Nickel
      – Definition, Features, Applications 
3. Similarities Between Copper and Nickel
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Copper and Nickel
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Copper and Nickel
      – Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Copper, Nickel

Difference Between Copper and Nickel - Comparison Summary

What is Copper

Copper is a chemical element with the atomic number 29 that sits in Group 11 of the periodic table, alongside silver and gold. Its distinct reddish-orange color, high electrical conductivity, and malleability have made it invaluable in various applications throughout history, from ancient civilizations to modern technology.

In its elemental form, copper exists as a solid metal. It has a relatively high melting point of 1,984°F (1,085°C) and a boiling point of 4,643°F (2,562°C). However, copper readily forms compounds with other elements, displaying a variety of oxidation states ranging from +1 to +4. The most common oxidation states are +1 and +2, where copper forms ions with a charge of +1 (cuprous) or +2 (cupric).


Copper compounds play crucial roles in many industrial processes and biological systems. For instance, copper sulfate is widely used in agriculture as a fungicide and in electroplating. Copper carbonate and copper oxides are utilized as pigments in paints and ceramics. Additionally, copper is an essential trace element for living organisms, participating in enzymatic reactions crucial for metabolism and electron transfer processes.

One notable aspect of copper chemistry is its ability to form complex compounds with ligands, resulting in a wide array of coordination complexes. These complexes often display vibrant colors due to the d-d electronic transitions within the copper ion. Famous examples include the deep blue color of copper(II) sulfate pentahydrate and the intense green hue of the mineral malachite, which contains basic copper(II) carbonate.

What is Nickel

Nickel, with the atomic number 28 and symbol Ni, is a versatile transition metal known for its silvery-white luster and corrosion resistance. One of nickel’s notable characteristics is its ability to form multiple oxidation states, including +2 and +3. This flexibility allows it to participate in a wide range of chemical reactions. In its most common oxidation state, +2, nickel exhibits properties similar to other transition metals, such as forming complex ions and coordinating with ligands in coordination compounds.

Nickel’s affinity for oxygen and sulfur makes it a crucial component in stainless steel production. When alloyed with iron, chromium, and other elements, nickel enhances the strength and corrosion resistance of stainless steel, making it ideal for applications in aerospace, automotive, and construction industries.


Additionally, nickel serves as a catalyst in various chemical processes. For instance, in hydrogenation reactions, nickel catalysts facilitate the addition of hydrogen atoms to unsaturated organic compounds, such as vegetable oils, to produce margarine or fatty alcohols. The ability of nickel to adsorb and activate hydrogen is critical in this process.

In electrochemistry, nickel plays a significant role as a component of rechargeable batteries, particularly in nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries. These batteries utilize nickel compounds as electrodes to store and release electrical energy efficiently.

Despite its utility, nickel can pose health risks, particularly in its soluble forms, which can be toxic and carcinogenic. Proper handling and disposal practices are essential to mitigate these hazards.

Similarities Between Copper and Nickel

  1. Copper and nickel are transition metals with similar metallic properties.
  2. They both exhibit good electrical conductivity.

Difference Between Copper and Nickel


Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29, while nickel is a chemical element with the symbol Ni and atomic number 28.


While copper typically has a reddish-orange hue and develops a greenish patina over time when exposed to air, nickel has a silver-white color and maintains its metallic luster.

Malleability and Ductility

Copper is highly malleable and ductile, making it easy to shape into wires and sheets. Nickel is also malleable and ductile but to a lesser extent compared to copper.

Corrosion Resistance

Moreover, copper is prone to corrosion over time, forming a greenish patina, whereas nickel is highly resistant to corrosion and maintains its appearance well.

Melting and Boiling Points

Copper has a melting point of approximately 1,984°F and a boiling point of about 5,301°F. Nickel, on the other hand, has a higher melting point of approximately 2,651°F and a boiling point of around 5,362°F.


Copper is renowned for its excellent electrical and thermal conductivity, making it ideal for electrical wiring and plumbing. Nickel, while still conductive, is not as efficient as copper in these applications.


Copper is extensively used in electrical wiring, plumbing, architecture, and various alloys. Nickel is commonly used in stainless steel production, batteries, magnets, and industrial processes where corrosion resistance is crucial.


In conclusion, although both exhibit good electrical conductivity as transition metals, the difference between copper and nickel is notable. Copper’s reddish-orange color, malleability, and widespread industrial and biological uses contrast with nickel’s silver-white appearance, strength, and versatility in alloying and catalysis. Despite being pricier, nickel’s unique characteristics, including multiple oxidation states and corrosion resistance, render it indispensable across various applications despite potential health hazards.

FAQ: Copper and Nickel

1. What is more expensive, copper or nickel?

Nickel is more expensive than copper, with its market price typically averaging around three times that of copper. This is because nickel is less abundant and harder to extract. Its scarcity, coupled with its demand in various industries like stainless steel production and electronics, drives up its price significantly compared to copper.

2. What is harder, copper or nickel?

Nickel is harder than copper due to its strong molecular structure. While nickel is known for its strength, copper is less strong but highly malleable and ductile, making it versatile for numerous applications.

3. What are the disadvantages of nickel?

The disadvantages of nickel include its potential to cause skin irritation and harm to internal organs such as the lungs, stomach, and kidneys upon exposure. Prolonged or excessive exposure to nickel has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

4. What are 3 benefits of nickel?

Three benefits of nickel include its high ductility, corrosion resistance, and oxidation resistance. These properties make nickel valuable for various applications, including in the production of stainless steel, alloys, and electronics, where durability and longevity are essential.

5. Which metal can replace copper?

Aluminum is a metal that can often replace copper in certain applications. While it doesn’t possess the same level of conductivity as copper, aluminum is lighter, less expensive, and still offers reasonable electrical conductivity. It’s commonly used in power transmission lines, heat exchangers, and some electrical wiring applications as a cost-effective alternative to copper.


1. “Nickel – Chemical Element.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
2. “Copper.” Encyclopedia Britannica.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Nickel electrolytic and 1cm3 cube” By Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) – Own work (FAL) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “NatCopper” By Native_Copper_Macro_Digon3.jpg: “Jonathan Zander (Digon3)”;derivative work: Material Scientist (talk) – Native_Copper_Macro_Digon3.jpg (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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