Since its discovery, silver has been a popular material both jewellery and coins, but did you know that there are also numerous other applications for silver due to its unique properties? In fact, the majority of silver is used these days for industrial applications such as solar panels and cell phones. Here are a few surprising applications for silver that you might now know about.
Silver in Electronics
The most common application of silver in industry is in electronics. The reason behind this is because silver has outstanding thermal and electrical conductivity. Small amounts of silver are used as contacts in electrical switches. These switches are found in automobiles, lighting in housing, appliances, and more. To get the best conductivity for electronics, the silver must be 99.99% pure and it must have a fineness of 999.9. Producing such a pure level of silver is possible through smelting and refining silver ore.
Since silver also has the highest thermal and electrical conductivity among all metals, it is also found in some batteries, superconductors, and is even used to generate magnetic energy to propel magnetic levitation trains! Given the wide range of applications that silver can be used for in electronics, it is no wonder that it cannot be replaced by cheaper materials.
Silver in Energy
Silver can also be turned into an industrial paste by dissolving pure silver in nitric acid. The end result is silver nitrate that can take form of powder or flakes. The fastest growing use of this silver paste is in photovoltaic cells in solar panels. Aside from solar panels, silver is also used to harness nuclear energy. It is inserted into control rods to slow the rate of nuclear fission by capturing neutrons.
Silver in Brazing and Soldering
Silver can also be used the create joints between two pieces of metal in which silver scrap is heated ad applied to the joint. For temperatures below 600°C the method of brazing is used and temperatures above 600°C the method of soldering will be used instead. Applications for brazing and soldering include plumbing fixtures, air conditioning vents, and more. Due to its antibacterial properties, silver is now also used to bond water pipes, instead of the toxic lead based bonds used in days past.
Silver in Photography
Before the rise of digital media, photography was one of the primary applications for industrial silver. That is because traditional film used the light sensitivity of silver halide crystals that when exposed to light, begin to record a latent image that can be later developed into a photograph.
Silver in Water and Food
The antibacterial properties of silver have been used for thousands of years and even today, it is used in the purification of water. A silver coating on carbon-based water filters prevents a bacterial buildup while silver ions in certain water purification systems is used to kill microbes. The antibacterial properties of silver are now being applied in Nanosilver coatings on consumer products such as washing machines, refrigerators, and food packaging.
Silver in Mirrors and Glass
Another unique attribute of silver is that it’s almost completely reflective when polished properly. Beginning in the 19th century, mirrors were manufactured by adding a thin coat of silver on a transparent glass surface. These days, mirrors uses cheaper alternatives like aluminum, but modern windows are coated with a transparent layer of silver that will reflect the sunlight, leaving a cooler interior in the hotter months of the year.
Silver has had a great impact on humanity ever since its discovery. Although the traditional uses of silver in applications like mirrors and photography have slowly faded away, new breakthroughs in the field of science and technology have brought silver back into the spotlight. It is safe to say that silver will be a vital part of our everyday lives for a very long time to come.