Silver is commonly known as the “white metal.” It is rare—but not to the same degree as gold. And because it is more abundant than gold, it is less expensive. Silver is cultivated from silver mines or lead and zinc mines. (Silver is a by-product of lead and zinc.) It is smelted and refined and delivered to customers in the form of bars or grains.
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Silver has many useful applications. Here’s a look at some of the properties that make silver so valuable:
- Resists corrosion and oxidation
- The best thermal and electrical conductor of any metal
- Shiny and reflective
- Malleable (can be flattened into something as thin as a piece of paper)
- Ductile (can be stretched into a long wire)
- Photosensitive (perfect for film photography)
- Thermal resistant
Silver is most commonly associated with jewelry and coins, but its uses extend far beyond accessories and currency. In fact, the bulk of today’s silver is used in the industrial sector.
Here are a few popular uses of silver:
- Electronics – Silver has no equal when it comes to conducting heat and electricity. This makes it a mainstay in electronics products. Silver is used for contacts in electrical switches. When those contacts come together, electricity switches on. Plasma televisions often contain silver electrodes that improve image quality. DVDs and CDs usually have a thick layer of silver. Batteries contain silver alloys. Silver plating systems for electronics plating are in high demand as more silver-coated components are needed to power the devices we depend on.
- Medical – Because of silver’s antibiotic, non-toxic properties, it’s a preferred metal in medicine. In the past, wounds were often wrapped in silver to prevent infection. People use colloidal silver—whether in ingestible or topical form—to stave off illness. Silver is in high demand in hospitals as doctors try to fight off new antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Silver is also used in surgical instruments and wound dressings and in salves for burns.
- Automotive – Engine bearings are usually made from steel, then electroplated with silver. Silver has a very high melting point, so it will stay intact in the midst of heat from engines. Silver can also help minimize friction between ball bearings and their housings.
- Energy – Silver can help harness the power of the sun. Silver paste is printed onto photovoltaic cells and helps capture and transmit electrical current. Solar energy is booming, which is great for the white metal. Silver is also used in creating nuclear energy. It is used in control rods to slow the rate of fission in nuclear reactors.
With silver playing such a key role in up-and-coming industries, there’s little doubt that demand for the versatile metal will continue to surge.