Silver, the white metal, has an illustrious reputation for its use in jewelry and coins. Nowadays, silver’s primary use is industrial. New innovations are constantly emerging to take advantage of silver’s unique properties. The huge industrial demand for silver may become the reason for silver squeeze.
Silver is a precious metal because it is rare and valuable. It is a noble metal because it resists corrosion and oxidation, though not as well as gold. Because it is the best thermal and electrical conductor of all the metals, silver is ideal for electrical applications. Its antimicrobial, non-toxic qualities make it useful in medicine and consumer products. Silver’s high luster and reflectivity make it perfect for jewelry, silverware, and mirrors. Its malleability allows it to be flattened into sheets, which allows it to be drawn into thin, flexible wire. This property make it the best choice for numerous industrial applications. Meanwhile, its photosensitivity has given it a place in film photography.
Because it is more abundant, silver is much less expensive than gold. Silver can be ground into powder, turned into paste, shaved into flakes, converted into salt, alloyed with other metals, flattened into printable sheets, drawn into wires, suspended as a colloid, or even employed as a catalyst. These qualities ensure that silver will continue to shine in the industrial arena. While, its long history in coinage and jewelry will sustain its status as a symbol of wealth and prestige. The industrial demand of silver is already huge. Combing all demands may put extreme pressure on silver shortage and may be the reason of silver squeeze.
Silver In Electronics Industry
The number one use of silver in industry is in electronics. Silver’s unsurpassed thermal and electrical conductivity among metals means it can not easily be replaced by less expensive materials. For example, small quantities of silver are used as contacts in electrical switches: to turn on and off. Whether turning on a bedroom light using a conventional switch or turning on a microwave using a membrane switch, the result is the same: the current can pass through only when the contacts are joined. Automobiles are full of contacts that control electronic features, and so are consumer appliances. Industrial strength switches use silver, too.
How does silver get from the earth to these electronic devices? Silver comes from silver mines or from lead and zinc mines from which silver is a by-product. Smelting and refining removes silver from the ore. Then, the silver is usually shaped into bars or grains. Electronics demand silver of the highest purity: 99.99% pure, also known as having a fineness of 999.9. Dissolving pure silver in nitric acid produces silver nitrate, which can be formed into powder or flakes. This material, in turn, can be fabricated into contacts or silver pastes, like conductive paste made with a silver-palladium alloy.
Silver paste has many uses, such as the membrane switch already mentioned and the rear defrost in many cars. In electronics, circuit paths, as well as passive components called multilayer ceramic capacitors (MLCCs), rely on silver paste. One of the fastest growing uses of silver paste is in photovoltaic cells for the production of solar energy.
Nanosilver, silver with an extremely small particle size (1-100 nanometers, that is 1-100 billionths of a meter), provides a new frontier for technological innovation, requiring much smaller amounts of silver to get the job done. Printed electronics work by using nanosilver conductive inks. The electrode in a supercapacitor, which can charge and discharge repeatedly and quickly, is an example of a printed electronic. Regenerative breaking is an automotive innovation that stores the kinetic energy of a slowing vehicle in a supercapacitor for reuse.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags offer another powerful application of printed electronics. These tags are better than bar codes for tracking inventory because they store more information. And they can be read from a greater distance, even without a direct line of sight. Silver has its place in consumer electronics, too.
Your plasma television set may rely on silver for more than just the on-off switch. It also contains a silver electrode aimed at giving a higher quality image. Light emitting diodes (LED) also use silver electrodes to produce low-level, energy efficient light. Meanwhile, the DVDs and CDs you play probably have a thin silver recording layer.
Another electronic application of silver is in batteries that employ silver oxide or silver zinc alloys. These light-weight, high-capacity batteries perform better at high temperatures than other batteries. Silver-oxide is used in button batteries that power cameras and watches, as well as in aerospace and defense applications. Silver-zinc batteries offer an alternative to lithium batteries for laptop computers and electric cars.
On the cutting edge of technology are superconductors. Silver is not a superconductor, but when paired with one, the two together can transmit electricity even faster than the superconductor alone. At very low temperatures, superconductors carry electricity with little or no electrical resistance. They can be used to generate magnetic energy for turning motors or propelling magnetic levitation trains.
The myriad applications of silver in electronics offer an eye-opening view into how one of the most famous metals in history has become a cutting edge material of the future. Due in part to its unique property of having the highest thermal and electrical conductivity of all metals, silver is often a must-have over other, less expensive materials. Since the electronic industry has to evolve in future, the use of silver will increase putting further pressure in supply. This might be another reason for silver squeeze in future.
Silver In Energy Sector
As mentioned previously, silver paste is used to make solar panels. Silver paste contacts printed onto photovoltaic cells capture and carry electrical current. This current is produced when energy from the sun impacts the semiconducting layer of the cell. Photovoltaic cells are one of the fastest growing uses of silver.
Silver’s reflectivity gives it another role in solar energy. It reflects solar energy into collectors that use salts to generate electricity.
Nuclear energy also uses silver. The white metal is often employed in control rods to capture neutrons and slow the rate of fission in nuclear reactors. Inserting the control rods into the nuclear core slows the reaction, while removing them speeds it up. The emergence of solar world is not hidden. This might be one of the reason for silver squeeze in next decade.
Silver for Brazing and Soldering
Brazing and soldering make use of silver’s high tensile strength and ductility to create joints between two metal pieces. Brazing takes place at temperatures above 600°C, while soldering takes place at temperatures below 600°C. Silver scrap can be used in brazing and soldering because these processes do not require very pure silver.
Brazing and soldering produce tight joints for everything from heating and air conditioning vents to plumbing. Silver’s antibacterial properties and non-toxicity to humans make it a great replacement for lead-based bonds between water pipes. The extreme silver shortage due to heavy demands may be the reason of silver squeeze in future.
Silver in Chemical Production
Silver acts as a catalyst to produce two important chemicals: ethylene oxide and formaldehyde. Ethylene oxide is used to produce molded plastics, such as plastic handles, and flexible plastics, such as polyester. It is also a major ingredient in antifreeze. Formaldehyde is used to make solid plastics and resins and as a protective coating. It is also used as a disinfectant and embalming agent. As a catalyst, silver increases the speed of reactions without getting used up.
Silver Coins and Investments
Silver has traditionally been served with gold, as the metal used in coins. As a precious metal, silver is rare and valuable, making it a convenient store of wealth. In the past, people accumulated their wealth in the form of silver coins; today, they invest in investment-grade silver bullion. The fact that silver does not corrode and only melts at a relatively high temperature, means that it can last, and the fact that it has high luster makes it attractive. Its malleability makes silver a good choice for designing and minting local currency.
In greater abundance, and therefore less expensive, than gold, silver has been used more prevalently as currency. Silver was mined and used in trading several thousands of years BC and was first minted into silver coins in the Mediterranean region many hundreds of years BC. Until the 20th century, many countries used a silver or gold standard, backing up the value of currency with the presence of gold or silver in the treasury. Today, countries use less expensive metals, such as copper and nickel, to produce coins, and they use fiat currency, in which government regulation controls the value, instead of a gold or silver standard.
Still, silver retains its value as a commodity. Many individuals choose to invest in silver through financial instruments, like stocks and mutual funds, or by actually buying and storing 99.9% pure silver bullion bars, coins, or medallions. Countries sometimes produce silver collector’s edition coins, which they sell to buyers at a price exceeding the value of the silver used to make the coin.
Jewelry and Silverware
The use of silver in jewelry and silverware identifies silver’s importance. Malleability, reflectivity, and luster make silver a beautiful choice. Because it is so soft, silver must be alloyed with base metals, like copper, as in the case of sterling silver (92.5% silver, 7.5% copper). Even though it resists oxidation and corrosion, silver can tarnish, but with a little polish, it can shine for a lifetime. Because it is less expensive than gold, silver is a popular choice for jewelry and a standard for fine dining.
Silver-plated base metals offer a less costly alternative to silver. Silver dishes and plates may accompany silverware, and these can often be ornately crafted works of art. For example, Paul Revere (1734-1818), known to most for his midnight ride at the start of the American Revolution, was a silversmith by trade, and some of his artwork is still on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Silver In Photography
Photography has been one of the primary industrial uses of silver, which shows silver’s importance. Traditional film photography relies on the light sensitivity of silver halide crystals present in film. When the film is exposed to light, the silver-halide crystals change to record a latent image that can be developed into a photograph. The accuracy of this process makes it useful for non-digital consumer photography, film, and X-rays.
The silver used in film photography should not be confused with the “silver screen” of cinema. This phrase refers not to the silver in the film itself, but to the silver lenticular screen onto which early films were projected.
Medicine uses of Silver
Silver ions act as a catalyst by absorbing oxygen, which kills bacteria by interfering with their respiration. This antibiotic property, along with its non-toxicity, has given silver an essential role in medicine for thousands of years. Before widespread use of antibiotics, silver foil was wrapped around wounds to help them heal, and colloidal silver and silver-protein complexes were ingested or applied topically to fight illness. Silver has also been used in eye drops and in dental hygiene to cure and prevent infection.
While silver is not toxic, repeat intake of small amounts of silver over time can result in argyria. In people with this condition, silver builds up in body tissue, giving it a gray-blue appearance when exposed to the sun. In addition, the ingestion of large amounts of silver can have negative effects on the body. For these reasons, medical doctors discourage the use of colloidal silver, discounting claims by some that colloidal silver is a cure-all dietary supplement.
Today, the presence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs increases the demand for silver in hospitals. Small amounts of silver can coat hospital surfaces and medical equipment to prevent the spread of pathogens. Silver in surgical equipment, wound dressings, and ointments protect wounds from infection. While Silver sulfadiazine is especially useful for burn victims because it kills bacteria while also allowing the skin to regrow. Ion silver treatments can heal bone infections and allow regeneration of damaged tissue.
Silver for Mirrors & Glass
The silver is almost completely reflective when polished. Since the 19th century, mirrors have been made by coating a transparent glass surface with a thin layer of silver, though modern mirrors also use other metals like aluminum. Many windows of modern buildings are coated with a transparent layer of silver that reflects sunlight, keeping the interior cool in the summer. In aerospace, silver-coated tiles protect spacecraft from the sun.
Silver In Engines
Engine bearings rely on silver. The strongest bearing is made from steel that has been electroplated with silver. Silver’s high melting point allows it to withstand the high temperature of engines. Silver also acts like a lubricant to reduce friction between a ball bearing and its housing. Due to its ability to absorb oxygen, silver is being researched as a possible substitute for platinum. Just to catalyze oxidation of matter collected in diesel engine filters. The engines are not uses in car industries but the concept of Engines in all other technologies may become the reason the silver squeeze.
Due to its status as a precious metal, ranked second only to gold, silver is often used to award second place. The most famous silver award is the second place Olympic Silver Medal. Silver also symbolizes honor, valor, and accomplishment, which is why many military organizations, employers, clubs, and associations use silver or silver-colored awards to honor individuals for their contributions.
Silver in Water, Food & Hygiene
Silver’s antibacterial properties have been applied for thousands of years, long before the discovery of microbial organisms, because silver containers and coins were known to prevent spoilage of liquids. Today, a silver coating prevents bacterial build-up in carbon-based water filters. On other hands silver ions in water purification systems carry oxygen that oxidizes and kills microbes. Silver-copper ions can even replace corrosive chlorine to sanitize pools and tanks.
The antimicrobial properties of silver that make it useful for medicine and water purification are now being applied in food and hygiene. Nanosilver coatings are applied to food packages and refrigerators. And many new consumer products, such as washing machines, clothing, and personal hygiene products tout the benefits of antibacterial silver. The idea of water filters is gradually adopted and would be increases in future and cause one of the reason for silver squeeze.
Uses of Silver in Other Industries
Other traditional uses of silver exist. For example, silver is one ingredient in the amalgam used to fill dental cavities. But this approach has been largely replaced by other materials due to the presence of toxic mercury in the amalgam. Silver has also been used to plate instruments, such as flutes.
Today, silver is being applied to many new uses. Silver is one of many options for replacing toxic chromated copper arsenate as a wood preservative. Nanosilver inks and coatings on paper tout their ability to prevent the spread of bacterial infection. Silver metal glass, produced by cooling silver quickly, offers durable strength that resists deformation. Silver-based ionic liquids, which are in a liquid state at room temperature, can be used to clean up petroleum waste products. Silver in fabric allows touch screen users to keep their gloves on during cold weather.
Future for Silver
Silver seems to have as many uses as the human imagination can develop. Traditional works of silver, like jewelry and silverware, rely on the creativity of artists. Modern uses depend on the creative exploits of scientists and engineers to meet the changing demands of consumers and industries. While some uses rise and fall, such as the use of silver in photographic film. And other uses may continue to grow, such as the burgeoning production of photovoltaic cells for solar energy. Silver’s unique properties, especially its high thermal and electrical conductivity, its reflectivity, and its antibacterial qualities, make it difficult to replace, like a one-of-a-kind silver ring. The silver is not only demanded for industrial area, but its use in all other industries may put extreme pressure on supply. The extreme pressure might be the reason for silver squeeze in future.