Silver, the precious metal with its irresistible lustre has certain amazing physical properties that make it so valuable to industry. Infact, the demand for silver has grown by leaps and bounds in recent times, mainly due to its use in the electronics and solar energy industries. The annual demand for silver from the electronics industry was recently estimated at around 249.9mn ounces. This number is a whopping 41.5% of the total demand for industrial silver, which was 599mn ounces, as of 2017.
But what makes silver such a useful commodity and why is its industrial demand rising?
Well, silver is an element, with its chemical symbol Ag, derived from the Latin word ‘Argentum’. Silver’s popularity as an ornamental metal comes from its white colour, and its natural lustre, which can be polished to create a shiny appearance. But there are other amazing properties that ensure that the metal stays in high demand from the industry.
Silver is an extremely malleable metal, which means it can be beaten into thin sheets without the material cracking or shattering. One interesting use of malleable silver comes from the south-east Asian sweets manufacturing industry, where sheets of pure silver, a few micrometres thick are used as a covering for sweets and almost 250 tonnes of silver is eaten in this way every year.
Silver is also ductile, which means it can be drawn into thin wires several metres long. Gold is the most ductile of metals, followed by silver.
Electrical and thermal conductivity
Among all the precious metals, silver is the most efficient conductor of electricity and thermal energy. Due to this, silver is used for the contact points in all printed circuit boards and is also used in electrical conductors as a coating. The electronics and solar energy industry generate a high demand for silver. The thermal conductivity property of silver makes it indispensable for its use in photovoltaic cells in solar panels. Installation of solar panels has gone up by 24% in 2017, creating a surge in the demand for silver.
Special gloves are now available for use with touchscreen phones, created from nylon fibres woven with silver. These gloves utilise the conductivity of silver to ensure that the bio-electricity from human hands are allowed to permeate through the gloves onto the touchscreen so that users can wear the gloves outdoor in winter and still use their smartphones.
Silver as a catalyst
Silver has a unique catalytic property and is able to convert ethylene into ethylene oxide. Several organic compounds can be synthesised from ethylene oxide and this makes silver very useful in the chemical industry.
Silver is known for its strong anti-bacterial properties and its use in the medical industry. It is used as a part of special clothing in order to prevent bacteria from spreading, giving rise to unpleasant odours. Silver is also present at the fingertips of specially manufactured gloves in order to prevent bacterial growth.
Density of silver
Silver is a noble metal with a high density. The density of silver is 10.5 grams per cubic centimetre. The high density of silver makes it difficult for counterfeiters to produce fake silver coins. If the size of the coin is right, but it isn’t made of silver, it is easy to detect by weight. Similarly, if the coin is made using a base metal at the right weight, its size would be incorrect. As pure silver is too soft a metal. Jewellery is often made with sterling silver, which is an alloy with 92.5% pure silver, blended with other base metals like copper, nickel or zinc.
Silver investing in 2019 and beyond – learn from Daniel Fisher
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