Industrial uses of silver

Silver is a highly ductile and malleable metal with a brilliant white luster, especially when polished. Its reflective and conductive properties make silver an irreplaceable component in today’s industrialized world. Silver can then be considered as both a store of value and a valuable commodity with an array of uses in industry.

One of the main commercial buyers of silver is the jewelry industry. Jewelry and fine silverware are traditionally made from sterling silver (92.5% silver, 7.5% copper). Inexpensive jewelry is often electroplated with a thin layer of .999 fine silver to give it a shiny look. Silver is also a component of almost all colored gold alloys and gold solders. Historically, goldsmith apprentices would hone their jewelry craft on silver before making pieces in more expensive gold.

Silver will not corrode, and is the best electrical conductor. Silver is highly ductile – meaning it can be stretched into fine wires and printed onto circuit boards. Therefore it is the perfect and only choice of metal in critical electrical components and circuits in spacecraft, aircraft, and nuclear reactors. Steel bearings that are silver plated have more strength and load capacity, and are essential for heavy duty applications such as military vehicles and jet engines.

Mirrors which require superior reflectivity are produced of silver-coated glass. Silver is also the metal of choice for coating solar reflectors in spacecraft and satellites.

Approximately 700 tons of silver is used annually as a catalyst in the plastics industry for the production of ethylene oxide and formaldehyde, essential compounds needed to manufacture polyester fabrics and solid plastics.

Silver-zinc batteries are manufactured by the billions every year. These batteries power everything from your watch and car key remote to many embedded applications requiring high voltage long lasting batteries. Applications which require battery power in high temperatures depend on silver oxide/zinc batteries. For example, it is the only battery that can reliably power the sensors and instruments in use at the bottom of oil wells.

Electricity drives the world’s industries. The distribution of all this electricity could never happen without silver. Virtually every modern household electrical appliance has silver in numerous places – switches, electrical conductors,and fuses for example. Silver is even alloyed with other metals to alter their properties. Every time you use your microwave, vacuum cleaner, light switches in your home, or even type on your computer keyboard, silver is completing these electrical contacts. Switches and circuit breakers both massive and small use silver contacts. Silver contacts are also used in membrane switch control panels in machinery, railway control, elevator buttons, and computer keyboards just to name a few.

Millions of first time car buyers are now in China and India, and billions more will follow. Here are just some of the ways every one of these billions of cars will use silver:

  • starter switch
  • braking system
  • power steering
  • electronic door locks, windows, mirrors, seat controls
  • satellite navigation
  • window defrost
  • stereo system
  • other electronic accessories and components of the engine

Silver also has many uses in the medical industry. Silver ions and silver compounds have a toxic effect on bacteria, viruses, algae and fungi, without toxicity to humans. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine”, wrote that silver has beneficial healing and anti-disease properties. Ancient peoples used silver flasks to store water, wine and vinegar to prevent spoilage. The Romans would drop silver coins into water storage tanks to sterilize the water.

Silver compounds were used to prevent infection before the advent of antibiotics. Proponents of alternative medicine still use it for this purpose, in a form called colloidal silver – a suspension of microscopic silver particles in distilled water. Silver is used in topical gels and bandages because of its wide-spectrum antimicrobial activity. Silver nitrate solution drops are used to disinfect the eyes of newborn babies.

World governments are scrambling to enact “green” policies and attempts to reverse “man-made climate change”. Whether you believe this is right or not, the price of silver will benefit. Silver carbonate is used to remove carbon dioxide from the air. Silver iodide is used in cloud seeding to produce rain. Every solar panels contains a significant amount of silver due to its conductive properties. China is increasing its solar energy base by nearly 100% every year. By 2014, the solar industry will need 130 million ounces of silver to satisfy one year of solar panel demand.

The photography industry consumed over 30% of annual silver production by 1998 in the form of silver nitrate and silver halides contained in photographic film. This amount has decreased with the advent of digital photography. Some pundits worried that the advent of digital photography would mean a drop in the price of silver. However, 87% of photographic silver was already recycled. So even if photography completely went away it would only be 13% of the photographic silver market. We do still make photographs with regular silver-containing film: in movies, amateur photography and dental and medical X-rays. Also, all those digital cameras which replaced silver photographic film contain electronic circuits and switches which themselves contain silver.

Many more uses for silver are being found in industries all the time. For example, new high tech new clothing with silver nano-particles is being produced which reduces odor and bacterial and fungal infection. Who knows what breakthroughs might be coming for silver in the next decade which can only make your silver investments more valuable?