An antibacterial fervor has swept society as news headlines around the world continue to depict the dangers of bacteria accumulated by cellphones. As explained by Time, “your cell phone is ten times dirtier than a toilet seat” and WonderHowTo, an educational platform “it’s not just bacteria, viruses colonize your mobile devices, too.” And as devices become increasingly mobile and pocket-sized, this phenomenon is only expected to worsen.
But little did the mining industry know that a microbe phobia might have been the spark it needed to increase demand and, in effect, boost the price of silver thanks to the antibacterial properties of the precious metal.
According to Brian Owens, an editor in weekly scientific journal Nature, the first description of silver’s antimicrobial capacity was depicted by Hippocrates in 400BC. And even though its medicinal properties have been in use for thousands of years, it was never properly understood until a team led by James Collin, a biomedical engineer from Boston University discovered silver’s ability to disrupt bacteria in 2013, explains Nature.
The team found that silver in the form ions can attack bacterial cells in two ways: by making the cell membrane more permeable and interrupting the cell’s metabolism. These lead to the overproduction of oxygen compounds, that are toxic to the bacteria. “Both mechanisms could potentially be harnessed to make today’s antibiotics more effective against resistant bacteria,” said Collins in the journal.
As its properties become better understood thanks to the development of science, companies are finding new ways to take advantage of silver ions to optimize their products. “Silver is likely to be a major beneficiary of growth in the antimicrobial market,” said Jason Russ, a value and growth investor expert, in an article he wrote for Seeking Alpha. “In addition to glass surfaces, the use of nanoparticles of the metal is an excellent method for impregnating other surfaces such as wound dressings, cotton fibers, cutting boards, food packaging, and even yoga mats.”
One company has already taken the first step by finding an answer to everyone’s worries through the unveiling of the world’s first antimicrobial cover glass. Corning Incorporated, the creators of the Gorilla Glass, explains that its new product has been formulated with a specific measure of ionic silver that helps both take advantage of the antibacterial agents in the precious metal and maintain the renowned durable properties of Gorilla Glass. “As more people move through shared work spaces, there is an increased need for antimicrobial surfaces,” said Allan Smith, Vice President of Product Marketing for Steelcase in a company press release. “We are excited to introduce Antimicrobial Corning Gorilla Glass on the RoomWizard scheduling device and look forward to working on future products incorporating this innovation.”
“The Next Big Thing”
An expected boom in demand for silver ions in antibacterial products is great news for silver producers, especially considering the optimism surrounding silver price predictions. Keith Neumeyer, CEO of First Majestic, is one of the boldest by stating that the price of gold could reach US$130/oz in an interview with Palisade Research. While his prediction is a far cry from the average price of US$17 that the metal recorded in 2017, the deficit in supply and demand leaves the industry in hope.
According to the World Silver Survey 2018, the industry reported a physical deficit ratio between supply and demand of 1:26 as the global mine production of silver reached a mere 852 million ounces in comparison to the global physical demand of 1.017 billion ounces in 2017. This creates a favorable scenario for silver operators around the world, and even more so for Mexico as the largest producer of the metal. “Falling new mine supply of silver due to few new mines being built during the recent five-year bear market of low metal prices should help boost higher metal prices for the next few years,” said Bradford Cooke CEO of Endeavour Silver. “Investment demand for silver is still low but we know from experience that when metal prices start to rise due to inflation or other economic factors, investors will jump back into silver and drive silver prices to new highs.”
But searching for the right denotator is not as obvious as it seems considering that the demand for silver in industrial fabrication fell to 599 million ounces in 2017 from the 633.8 million ounces recorded in 2010. It may be up to more innovative uses of the metal to sway the balance in the direction in which operators need it to move. “While silver has been used for ages (literally) as an antimicrobial material, soon the new glass will almost certainly account for silver’s greatest market penetration of an antimicrobial surface,” said Russ. “Many people now consider silver’s antimicrobial properties to be the next “big thing” to boost demand of the metal.”