Other Uses of Silver
Of all the metals, silver is the best conductor of electricity, followed by copper and gold. Silver also exhibits the highest thermal conductivity of any element and the highest reflectance of light. It does not corrode and resists oxidation. As a result, if an electrical product must perform well for a long period of time, it will generally include silver. Below are a few examples of how silver is currently being used in our world:
Silver Metallic Flakes
Available in a variety of sizes, typically larger than one micrometer, these are not generally used for medical purposes. However, they are widely used in the electronics industry, solar panels, and for other industrial needs.
Switches and Circuit Breakers
Every time an electrical item is turned on or off, a conventional switch is used. Today’s cars can be equipped with more than forty silver-tipped switches to allow occupants to start the engine, raise and lower windows, lock and unlock door, and even keep the power steering and brakes functioning as they should. Silver content in these switches is typically between 70 and 90 percent, the balance consisting of metal ingredients such as oxides and carbon that greatly extend the life of the switch by reducing silver evaporation.
Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs)
Almost every electrical product today uses one or more PCBs. Some of these include computers, mobile telephones, security systems, electrical appliances, and airplanes. Connectors used to hold all these PCBs and their components together are often comprised of silver.
A lead-acid battery has half the capacity of a silver oxide and zinc one. Applications requiring long-term battery usage without recharging, such as film crew equipment and research submersibles, prefer batteries with silver. The oil industry also favors batteries with silver. At oil well drilling depth, temperatures are high; batteries with silver are unique in that they can withstand these high temperatures.
This material allows electricity to flow without resistance below a certain temperature, which is important because resistance causes a loss of energy. In theory, and almost in reality, a closed loop of superconducting material that has been turned on can infinitely keep its electrical current flowing. Using silver in the superconductor assembly increases both its speed and its effectiveness. Although their use is limited today, superconductors are constantly being researched and developed, and they are seen as the future of power transmission.
The uses of silver are broad, and they are also used in non-electrical applications. One of these is photography. There are many modern, non-silver-based photographic techniques. The experts know that silver-based photography is relatively low cost and produces pictures with superior definition. Pictures of bones (X-rays) also rely on silver. Although these are of a slightly different general composition, the coating of X-ray film contains silver halide crystals, like those used in regular silver-based photography.
It appears that everything can be bettered by the incorporation of silver. Chemical reactions become more efficient in the presence of silver. In addition, silver can help produce unique chemical results. For example, the oxidization of ethylene gas into ethylene oxide is only possible if silver is the catalyst. Polyester textiles are built from blocks of ethylene oxide. Without it, many of the clothes we wear today would be impossible to create. Also, ethylene oxide is part of the material that forms many molded items, such as electrical control knobs and computer keyboards. Chemical processes involved in the expanding field of silver nanotechnology is also a significant application.
Another important application is solar energy. The U.S. Department of Energy Photovoltaic Technology Division states that crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells are the most widely used type of solar cell. All crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells on the market contain silver paste as a defining component. Many satellites are powered with silicon cells as well. In these cells, silver deposited on the front side of the silicon acts as the collection grid for the photon ejected from the p/n junction that lies beneath the semiconductor surface. Not only does silver guarantee efficient conduction of electric current, but it also offers enhanced reflection of the sunlight, more energy, and better reflection of solar (thermal) heat.
Speaking of heat, a transparent coating of “invisible” silver can deflect solar energy. In this way, windows and windshields treated with silver can reduce about 70 percent of entering solar energy; this means less work for air-cooling systems. In recent years, the U.S. Department of Energy Star Program has promoted the use of silver-coated glass, often called “low E squared.” The resulting increase in usage (50 percent) means that the annual need for 350 million square feet of glass requires only 5 million ounces of silver.
As in ancient times, silver is being used in water purification systems today. More and more of the water filters sold in the U.S. are relying on silver to help them remain bacteria- and algae-free. Recent studies show that combining silver with oxygen in a catalytic format creates a powerful water cleaner. This methodology could provide an alternative to the current use of chlorine, which is dangerously corrosive.
Not to be dismissed is the significant use of silver in jewelry and silverware. Compared to gold, silver is more reflective, and it can be polished to the highest shine of any metal. Unfortunately, by itself, silver is too soft for these uses, so it is typically mixed with a percentage of copper for greater durability. What we know as “sterling” silver is often a 92.5 percent silver mixed with 7.5 percent copper.
Protective and decorative coatings are yet another application for the versatile metal. Silver electroplating is not only used in jewelry, cutlery, and serving pieces but also for fuse caps and heavy-duty electrical equipment. Mirrors also use a form of silver coating, since polished silver is almost totally reflective. The bearings of many jet engines are silver coated to provide more reliable performance and a high level of safety.
In sum, whether we see it or not, silver has become an everyday metal that we likely encounter many times during our days. The Silver Institute predicts that the trend of using silver will continue. Its recent report, “The Future of Silver,” discusses quite a number of emerging silver-using applications. These include solid-state lighting (SSL), radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for tracking and theft prevention, wood preservatives, super capacitors (similar to batteries but last almost indefinitely), and food packaging.
“This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
 Silver, Institute, The. “The Future of Silver.” https://www.silverinstitute.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/futuresilverindustrialdemand.pdf