Friday, February 3, 2012

The Role of Silver in Industry

Silver plays a very important role in industry and it is true to say that without silver, industry as it currently stands would grind to a halt.

Silver is used in great diversity in industry from automobiles to electronics to health to solar cells and much more. This is very much a good excuse for investing in silver quite apart from the jewelry, coin and silver bullion aspect.

Some of the vital uses for silver in industry include the following:

Automobiles
Batteries
Catalysts
Cell Phones
DVDs and other data storage devices
Electrical and electronic switching
Electrical power
Electronics, including computers, screens, cell phones
Food hygiene
Health
Paints and lacquers
Personal care, cosmetics etc.
Photography
Photon voltaics and solar devices
RFIDs
Silver coated Ball bearings
Surgical appliance and sterilization procedures
Textiles & shoes
Water filtration, Purification, sanitization

Although in many industries the amount of silver used for each application can be quite small, the quantity used means that several tons can be used very easily. Take cell phones for example. Although there is only a fraction of an ounce of silver in each phone, average of .35 grams, nevertheless as there are over 5 billion cell phones on the planet that amounts to almost 60 million dollars worth of unrecoverable silver (only about 1 percent of the silver used in discarded cell phones is recovered).

According to the Silver Institute, the total fabrication demand for silver grew by 12.8 % to a 10-year high of 878.8 Million ounces in 2010. In the previous year silvers industrial use grew by 20.7 % to 487.4 Million ounces.

Silver mine production only rose by 2.5 % to 735.9 Million ounces in 2010 however and this was only because it was aided by new projects in Mexico and Argentina.
Mexico, Peru, China and Australia were the biggest producers of silver in 2010. Top silver producing companies in millions of tones were:

BHP Billiton Australia with 46.6,
Fresnillo plc of Mexico 38.6,
KGHM Polska Miedź Poland with 37.3 and
Pan American Silver Corp Canada with 24.3.

Fresnillo and Pan American being the only primary silver producer (Primary means they have mines that mine exclusively silver as distinct from mines that produce silver as a by-product of mining other minerals).

Catalysts are one of the biggest users of silver in industry. A catalyst is a substance that is used to create a chemical process without itself being changed. As such silver is a very important catalyst in the production of ethylene oxide and formaldehyde, essential in the production of plastics, as the silver itself is not affected by the process and can continue to be used over and over again.

Nevertheless it still takes over 150 million ounces to produce the worlds supply of ethylene oxide and formaldehyde. 90 percent of the silver is used in the production of ethylene oxide from ethylene which is the foundation for such things as polyester, used in the textile industry and plastics used for insulation from electrical conductivity and heat (Handles for stoves, pots, keys for computers etc). In addition 25 percent of the ethylene oxide produced is used to manufacture antifreeze coolant for the auto industry.

Formaldehyde is the other chemical used extensively in plastics. Produced by a catalyst reaction from methanol, using silver, formaldehyde is used in adhesives, laminating resins, plywood and particle board. It produces surfaces that are scratch resistant, good for such products as buttons, dinnerware, appliances, handles etc. Also automotive parts and even toys, so silver plays a very important part here also.

Silver is also used in soldering and brazing. It offers safety, strength and high quality joints which other metals cannot match.

Brazing is the term used for joining materials at temperatures over 600 degrees Celsius while soldering is the term for joining at under 600 degrees Celsius. Silver is added to provide a smooth corrosion resistant joint. You can find these joints in many areas such as air conditioning, refrigeration, power distribution as well as the automobile and aeronautical industries.

Silver is a natural antibacterial and so is more frequently used in homes these days to bond copper piping and eliminate the propagation of bacteria as well as replacing the harmful lead based solvers of yesteryear.

In automobiles well over 36 million ounces of silver are used each year.
Silver forms a very significant part of industry and, with the expansion Photon voltaics or solar devices and silver nano particles we can expect a continuing expansion of silver being used in industry. This will only contribute in no small measure to the value of silver over the coming years. Let's hope that enough silver will be produced out of the ground to support that demand.

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