‘Tis the giving season. Many gifts of gold and silver were unwrapped this past week, and many more await under the tree. Beyond the jewelry and décor we gift to one another during the holidays, silver and gold give to the technology industry year round. As new and emerging technologies continue to advance in the digital era, so too do uses for precious metals. Today, we celebrate the role silver and gold play in the transformative technologies that power our world.
Riding the Silver Bullet
More than 36 million ounces of silver are used annually in motor vehicles, with demand growing as cars increasingly become computerized. At present we have WiFi-enabled vehicles and advanced computer systems, but soon we will have fully autonomous fleets. Silver plays a pivotal role in the creation and operation of almost every facet of today’s vehicles.
For example, each electrical connection in a modern car is activated with silver-coated contacts. Starting the engine, opening power windows, adjusting power seats and closing a power trunk are all accomplished using a switch with a silver membrane. Not only does silver make our cars go, it keeps us safe. Silver-ceramic lines implemented into rear-view windows (and now the front windshield on some newer cars) generate heat to melt ice and keep the glass fog-free.
Gold’s Glitter Takes to the Stars
In 2018, NASA is set to launch the James Webb Space telescope, which will embark on an adventure to search for galaxies formed in the early universe. The telescope’s 18 hexagonal-shaped mirror segments have been covered with a microscopically thin gold coating, making use of gold’s properties as an efficient reflector of infrared light. Fun Fact: That same gold plating also is used to keep buildings both cool in the summer and warm in the winter, lowering energy costs and carbon emissions.
Ink Up to Ditch the Wires
Any device that needs an electric current, but is either too small or more efficient without the typically required wires, can turn to silver as reliable alternative. Applying silver ink to a non-metal surface provides an electrical pathway, eliminating the need for wires. The most common application for this is use in radio frequency identification device (RFID) chips, which are rapidly replacing bar codes in supermarkets, supply chain inventories and even on event tickets. The chips’ paper-thin antennas consist of sprayed-on silver and allow for expanded capabilities such as collecting more in-depth data.
Digital Duo: Silver and Gold Power Your Phone
Silver and gold’s high electrical conductivity and durability make them prominent in almost every electronic device.
If a device has an on/off button, you can bet with near-certainty that it contains silver. In 2016, nearly 234 million ounces of silver were consumed in electronics and electrical use, making technology one of the most significant industries demanding silver. Silver membrane switches, which require only a light touch, are used in buttons on televisions, telephones, microwaves, children’s toys and computer keyboards.
Gold nanotechnologies also have been shown to offer functional benefits for visual display technologies, such as touch screens, and have potential for use in advanced data storage technologies, such as advanced flash memory devices.
Understanding the growing uses of precious metals in today’s IoT-connected world help to demonstrate the ever-growing demand for silver and gold. Investors looking for future investment opportunities should consider the diverse applications of precious metals, as demand likely will continue climbing in correspondence to our increasing reliance on tech.