EDITOR: | November 20th, 2015 | 9 Comments

A silver lining for one technology metal

| November 20, 2015 | 9 Comments

keyboardDid you know that up to 25% of hospital keyboards are contaminated with the Super Bug MRSA, a strain of staph bacteria resistant to antibiotics? That news was published earlier this year in the academic journal Infection Control, in an article from experts at  the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

And why am I telling you this? Because it seems one metal can solve the problem – and it’s a metal that at the moment is slightly unloved. It is, of course, silver, which today is just managing to stay above $14/oz, partially dragged down by gold (which has shed 8.73% in the past 30 days). But this market move reflects the precious metals aspect of silver; the other aspect, silver as an industrial [and technology!] metal, is telling us quite another story.

WetKeys Washable Keyboards of Atlanta, Georgia, has now released a rigid plastic keyboard that can go in the dishwasher, coated as it is with a silver-based antimicrobial protection layer. Not only can it be washed regularly, but silver ions in the coating inhibit bacterial growth.

This is just another example of how silver’s properties as an antimicrobial agent is propelling a whole new range of demand, from silver being imbedded in medical instruments to socks, and now playing a wider role in such things as water purifying.

A recent conference conducted by the Washington-based Silver Institute heard how the reflective and conductive qualities of silver were advancing the range of its industrial uses. For example, the metal is a critical element in the production of ethylene oxide, a basic chemical used in such products as polyester fibre. Silver is found in computers, cell phones, tablets. Silver threads are now being incorporated into underwear to combat body odour (Ralph Lauren is one company using this technology).

A report out this week, the regular Silver Market Review from London-based Thomson Reuters, says silver demand from the photovoltaic industry is forecast to rise by 17% this year, to 74.2 million ounces. Silver demand from ethylene producers is expected to increase by 49% this year to 8 million ounces, the highest since 2010.

Overall, though, this is being partially offset by other sectors. The drop in worldwide electronics demand – no fault of silver’s, but symptomatic of sluggish demand in a stressed global economy – means use of silver in computers, etc., will fall by 2.5%. This is just one more example of how China’s industrial woes are affecting the whole metal commodity scene: that country accounts for 28% of all silver used in global electronics fabrication, and China will use 7.9 million fewer ounces of silver in 2015 for this purpose.

As with gold, silver mine production is flat with Thomson Reuters expecting total output for 2015 to be 1.04 billion ounces, down 3% on 2014.

But the falling silver price has provided – well – a silver lining to the precious metals cloud. The slide in price in July and August to six-year lows triggered a surge in buying on the silver coin market, causing an unprecedented shortage of coins available from the world’s largest sovereign mints.

The U.S. Mint, the Royal Canadian Mint, Australia’s Perth Mint, the Austrian Mint and the British Royal Mint recently put their silver coins on an allocation basis, with customers having to wait up to four weeks to receive their purchases.

In the September 2015 quarter, silver bullion coin sales reached 32.9 million, up 95% on the same period in 2014. Not everyone is giving up on the precious metal.


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  • hackenzac

    Silver as an anti-microbial is old news. I have a thirty year old silver/copper ionizer in my pool and hardly use any chlorine anymore. We have a method in public health practice called HACCP, hazard analysis and critical control points and in the case of keyboards, it’s the hands. Wash them. But anti-microbial surfaces also help. One in particular that I find interesting is the black silicon one developed by Natcore. Natcore is developing technology to reduce silver use in solar cells so the trend in solar at least since it’s a PM is to use less.

    November 20, 2015 - 9:51 AM

  • Dr. Mike Hirschberger

    The Company in Atlanta–do you know them? MRSA is #1 infectious disease control issue in most all hospital in US.

    Mike Hirschberger, MD/PhD

    November 20, 2015 - 10:26 AM

  • Robin Bromby
    November 20, 2015 - 10:34 AM

  • Robin Bromby

    Yes, the properties are old news. But new developments on that story are “new news”. OK?

    November 20, 2015 - 10:36 AM

  • hackenzac

    Antimicrobial silver impregnated keyboards have been around for at least 5 years. Google is your friend Robin.

    November 20, 2015 - 11:27 AM

  • hackenzac

    That wetkeys product is simply washable and is not what I was referring to. Black silicon nanotechnology which is far more disruptive than you understand. Here’s link. Again, Google is your friend.

    November 20, 2015 - 11:33 AM

  • alvarita


    Evidently you haven’t come to the realization that hackenzac is the definitive authority on everything known to mankind in addition to some things not yet known to mankind. Please be advised…lmao.

    November 20, 2015 - 2:45 PM

  • Robin Bromby

    Yes, thanks for that. Life’s burdens include dealing with those who dedicate themselves to finding fault, wherever it lies (and often when it doesn’t!)

    November 21, 2015 - 4:24 AM

  • Janet

    I found this article very interesting as I have been following gold but almost given up on silver! Thanks Mr. Bromby, I will watch for more news on silver trends from you in the future.

    November 23, 2015 - 2:25 PM

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