More and more applications for silver are being invented, discovered, and, importantly, commercialized, said a new report from the Silver Institute and CRU Consulting, stoking the growth potential from several of the most important industrial silver applications.
Total industrial silver demand is forecast to reach nearly 680 million ounces annually by 2018, according to the “Glistening Particles of Industrial Silver” report scheduled for public release Wednesday morning.
Half of this growth will occur in the electrical and electronics sector, but additional demand will be due to growth in the use of silver in batteries, Ethylene Oxide (EO) in the chemical sector, anti-bacterial uses of silver, the automotive industry, silver coated bearings, and the brazing alloys/solders sector.
“Over the past decade, physical silver demand has seen strong growth, of which industrial demand for silver, has contributed the largest share,” said CRU. Loss from the photography sector have been offset by increasing demand from other sectors as well as new applications, such as silver-zinc batteries, clothing and hygiene.
“As a result of the ongoing recovery of the global economy and continuous technological development of silver applications, industrial demand for silver is expected to rally in the coming years,” said the report. “It is forecast that total silver consumption in industrial fabrication will be 4.4% larger than in 2013.”
In an interview with Mineweb Tuesday, CRU Consulting’s Alex Laugharne told Mineweb that EO silver consumption this year is expected to be 54Moz, increasing to 56Moz next year.
Over the past 10 years, the most significant change was the shift of silver demand towards emerging markets, especially China where per capita silver consumption has increased by 281% since the year 2000, according to the report. Meanwhile, increasing demand for silver in solar panels, automobile and anti-bacterial applications has attracted more consumers in both developed and developing countries.
Silver Oxide-Zinc Batteries
Silver oxide-zinc batteries are a major contributor to miniature power sources with small button sells used in hearing aids, toys, medical instruments, watches and other lower power devices.
Laptop manufacturers are encouraging silver oxide battery technological development, along with hearing aid rechargeable battery manufacturer ZPower Battery.
Large silver battery cells are used for military applications including missiles, torpedoes and submarines. Laugharne observed most military consumption of silver oxide-zinc systems tend to be one-time uses. Many of these missiles and missile-defense systems are approaching the end of their life cycles or are nearly obsolete, which will increase demand for missile defense replacements and upgrades even without regional military conflicts.
“With robust growth of national defense budgets, more expenditure will be spend on defense systems and missile weapons, which in turn will boost the demand for silver-contained batteries,” the report suggested. The total global defense budget in 2013 was $1,538 billion. China’s defense budget is expected to be $132 billion this year.
Ethylene oxide (EO) is a chemical reactive material, primarily used in the chemical sector. EO products are wildly used in the manufacturing of anti-freeze, polyester, solvents, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, soaps, detergents, gas purification, emulsifiers and dispersants. “Demand for silver has grown continuously in the past decade along with the development of the EO industry,” said CRU.
Current global EO capacity has risen to over 26 million metric tons, which means the consumption of silver catalysts is around 53-56 million ounces annually. CRU expects annual silver consumption in EO to reach 63 million ounces by 2018, compared to 52 million ounces in 2013.
Anti-Bacterial Silver Uses
The use of silver in anti-bacterial applications can be traced back to ancient times when the Phoenicians stored water and other liquids in silver-coated bottles to discourage contamination.
“Out of all the metals with antimicrobial properties, silver has the most effective anti-bacterial action and least toxicity to human cells, so it is unsurprising that silver is commonly used to deter bacterial growth in a variety of medical applications as well as in our daily lives, including wound and burn care, consumer appliances, water purifications, food packaging and so on,” said the report.
Silver can also be used as a biocide in hospitals and other health care facilities to help reduce or remove the presence of so-called “superbugs” which are resistant to antibiotics.
Laugharne observed that since such miniscule amounts of silver are used in these applications and products, they are not expected to have a harmful impact on the environment or on human health.
Silver-coated bearings are used extensively in heavy-duty equipment and high-tech applications in which superior resistance to corrosion and fatigue is needed. The bearings play an important role in jet engines, allowing for a safe engine shut-down before any more serious damage can occur after a pump fails or oil stops lubricating the engines.
“With the fast development of the aviation industry, we believe demand for silver-coated bearings in jet engines will see continued stable growth,” the report stated. Global demand for these bearings is expected to increase 7.8% to US$96 billion by 2016.
CRU expects that silver use in bearings will reach 3 million ounces annually by 2018.
Silver is a primary component in photovoltaic (PV) applications, primarily in solar panels. However, to cut production costs, a number of large producers are trying to reduce the use of silver pastes in the cells.
Nevertheless, CRU predict that “global PV capacities will continue to expand and silver consumption in PV cells is expected to increase accordingly. However, the growth rate might be negatively impacted by declining intensity of silver use—i.e. new cells that consume less silver are expected to be widely used in the future.”
CRU forecasts that global silver consumption in PV will increased from 88 million ounces in 2913 to 109 million ounces by 2018.
“A fully-equipped automobile may have over 40 silver-tipped switches to start the engine, activate power steering, windows, mirrors, locks and other electrical accessories,” said the report. “Although the exact consumption of silver contacts in automobile(s) is uncertain, the demand outlook is bullish.”
Worldwide global car production growth is anticipated to accelerate from 2014 and reach 110 million units by the end of 2018. Therefore, the use of silver in the automotive industry could grow faster.
CRU predicts automotive sector silver consumption will grow from 56 million ounces in 2013 to 71Moz in 2018.
Silver brazing, also known as silver soldering, is brazing using silver alloy-based fillers. Silver brazing/soldering is a common method for joining or bonding ferrous and non-ferrous metals, like steel, stainless steel, copper and brass. Silver Brazing alloys are used in home appliances, power distribution, and from automobiles to aerospace.
The total consumption of silver in brazing/soldering last year was 70 million ounces.
“Indeed, demand for silver in brazing alloys is expected to grow following the gradual recovery of housing and infrastructure in the developed and developing regions,” said the report. “By the end of 2018, the demand for silver brazing alloys/solders is forecast to achieve 88Moz, adding more than 19 Moz of demand to current levels.”
Printed inks based on silver nanotechnology are designed to utilize the super conductivity of silver. Presently these are still at the stage of research and laboratory trials. But UK-based Archipelago Technology Group is working on commercializing new techniques of applying silver nanotechnology in printed inks.
Silver inks are now widely used in radio frequency identification devices (RFIDs) which transmit information using radio frequency. Many chains stores, including Target, Best Buy, and Kroger, have officially announce plans or are in the process of installing RFID systems. Wal-Mart has used the technology for over a decade.
RFIDs tags are being used in livestock management to detect unusual health conditions at an early stage.
Current total demand for RFID tags, each of which contains 10.9 milligrams of silver is now over 4 billion pieces, according to the report. Between 2012 and 2022, the market size value is expected to quadruple to US$26.2 billion.
“In total, CRU expects silver demand in printed inks to double from 2 Moz in 2013 to 4 Moz by 2018,” the report concluded.