This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.
In some quarters, silver is sometimes viewed as – well let’s politely call it – a lesser precious metal. However, in the name of fairness, perhaps it is time to take a look at what this metal means to the economy of Ontario – and to modern society.
In 2011, 147 tonnes of silver were produced from a variety of sources in Ontario. The value of this output was more than $168 million. Ontario is the largest silver producer in Canada turning out about 28% of the national total production level of 532 tonnes.
All silver produced in Ontario is a by-product of other mining operations. There are no primary silver mines in Ontario. In fact, in Canada, Alexco Resources owns and operates the Bellekeno silver mine in the Yukon, which is the only operating primary silver mine in the country. In 2012, the company’s total production of silver totaled more than 2,150,000 ounces.
Ontario-originated silver is generally a by-product from a variety of gold mining operations in the province and the major nickel-copper mines in the Sudbury Basin. Also, in Timmins, Xstrata Copper’s Kidd Operations has long been a major source of silver output in Ontario.
While this metal does have a monetary role and it remains a key component of jewelry creation, the Silver Institute based in Washington D.C. says the industrial demand for silver is soaring and likely to reach record heights in 2014. One of the main industrial uses of silver was in photography but the technological shift to digital cameras has lessened those applications.
This metal has numerous characteristics, which make it attractive for many industrial uses. Silver can withstand extreme temperatures at both ends of the thermometer, it is an excellent reflector of light, it is a good conductor of heat and electricity and it is a natural anti-microbial agent. This makes for an impressive array of attributes. Industrial demand for silver is expected to increase annually by more than 50% in the 2010 to 2014 period compared with a decade earlier, according to the Silver Institute.
“Silver helps make today’s interconnected lifestyle possible and is a vital component of virtually every automobile, cell and smartphone, computer and laptop, appliance and electronic device we use,” said Michael DiRienzo, Executive Director of the Silver Institute, in a recent speech delivered in Toronto. “Silver’s antibacterial properties are finding new uses in textiles, medical instruments and hospital equipment, providing an effective tool in combating infection and bacteria.”
Green technologies of today and the future need silver. Solar energy production relies on this metal. The main ingredient in photovoltaic cells and other solar panels, which convert natural sunlight into electricity, is silver. It is also found in applications where it is used to reflect light to run generators. In windows, it reduces sunlight being transmitted indoors, which in turn can reduce air conditioning needs and costs.
On the health front, when silver is added to fabrics, appliances, carpets and purifiers, it acts as a sterilizer. This reduces the need for harsh chemicals and agents that can be more harmful to the environment. The metal’s healing and anti-disease properties are adding to new uses to improve health and advance medical science.
Hearing aids and cameras are powered by silver oxide batteries and silver is used to coat bearings in jet engines and most electronic appliances contain silver. The global automotive industry is estimated to use 36 million ounces of silver annually mostly in electronic applications.
Silver may be a by-product from mines in Ontario but it is an element that is destined to be consumed by us all in many different ways. It is also a metal of the future that holds great promise for greater and greener uses