According to the annual report released by metals consultancy GFMS Limited for The Silver Institute, the annual industrial demand for silver will grow from about 487.4 million ounces recorded in 2010 to 665.9 million ounces in 2015. While emerging technologies are expected to contribute significantly to this demand, it is apparent that established uses will still be the major demand driver.
The highest end users of silver in 2010 were the thick film photovoltaic industry, the automobile industry, and the PCs and laptop manufacturing industry. Cell phones, PDPs, and button batteries were the other significant users of silver. Most of the new uses of silver are not new discoveries but are still termed ‘new’ since they have only begun to prove their commercial feasibility.
Silver electrodes are used in the LEDs and OLEDs of semiconductors used in solid-state lighting (SSL). The technology is already being used in traffic lights and some car headlamps, but technology to use it in signage, backlighting and other high performance applications such as televisions are still under development. Features such as dimming and uneven lighting are better performed by silver than by other alternatives.
Nanosilver is another material that is finding a growing number of uses, from textiles to medical devices. Catalysts, conductive/antistatic composites, silver impregnated water filters, silver algicides, and pigments are some of the applications already using nanosilver. The anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that certain refrigerators have are also because of nanosilver. New uses of nanosilver are in plastics, medical articles and devices, coatings and textiles. Some of the uses of nanosilver are still waiting for regulatory approval, which if granted, would increase the use of nanosilver in medical devices and electrical applications. The antibacterial properties of silver have already made the use of nanosilver a reality in the manufacture of sportswear, hospital gowns, bedding, and counter tops.
The increasing demand for power worldwide has forced engineers to consider superconductors for power trans-mission given their higher capacity and smaller volume in comparison with conventional cables. The technology can also be used in applications that require electrical energy to create a powerful magnet that can, for example, turn a motor. Superconductors can consequently be used in applications as wide ranging as hard disks to ships, from medical equipment to magnetic levitation trains. In this technology, silver is not used only for its excellent conducing properties but as a carrier metal. Besides offering fast heat diffusion, silver being a noble metal, will not react with the conducting material. The technology is still at a nascent stage with only Japan ready to begin operations by 2015 but it holds great promise.
Another potentially large-scale use of silver in future is in supercapacitors, which are similar to batteries but which have the additional property of being able to release and recoup energy very quickly. They can capture energy from various sources such as wind power or solar power. Supercapacitors can also be charged and completely discharged with no loss in performance. The role of silver in this technology is as electrodes in the form of printed silver. Although the awareness about the properties of nanosilver may limit the potential of this technology, it still has the capacity to achieve commercial success. Given the still unclear status of nanosilver, the chances of this technology succeeding are big.
In terms of price, silver is expected to continue rising this year. The price drivers are expected to originate from the investment industry and growth in industrial demand. Although the comparative high price of silver has made users look at viable alternatives, the transition is expected to take time and until then, silver will rule.