Silver: Powering Vehicle Safety

December 22, 2023

Silver is second to none. With the highest electrical conductivity of any metal and excellent durability, silver is a critical component of modern vehicles. The metal may even be lifesaving in the milliseconds when speed and reliability matter most.

Knowingly or not, most modern Americans rely on silver to power their daily commutes, as every electrical connection in modern vehicles depends on silver for activation. 

While it’s easy to take for granted the hundreds of electrical connections that make a vehicle function, one of the most critical applications of silver in modern vehicles only kicks in after a collision – the airbag system. 

Did You Know? Frontal airbags have saved more than 50,000 lives throughout a 30-year period. In frontal crashes, front airbags reduce fatalities of front-seat passengers age 13 and older by 32 percent

Relaying Essential Signals

Silver’s conductive properties make it an essential component of modern airbag systems. To be effective, an airbag must deploy within milliseconds of a crash. The success of the whole airbag system depends on the quality and speed of the sensors and connections that detect a collision, relay signals, and deploy the airbag.

Silver-coated connections join together a complicated system of small electrical sensors that monitor seat occupancy, brake pressure and impact, wheel speed and sudden stopping. The sensors relay signals to the airbag control unit, which deploys the airbag.

These sensors and signals must operate quickly and accurately in order for the airbag system to be successful. Silver’s high conductivity makes split-second activation possible, ensuring that the life-saving feature is there when needed.

Did You Know? Silver isn’t the only Alaska-mined metal critical to vehicle safety. Airbag sensors also contain a gold-plated steel ball held in place by magnets. In a collision, the ball breaks away from the magnets and touches gold plated contacts that complete an electrical circuit and trigger the airbag to inflate. 

Other Safety Applications 

Not only is silver essential in ensuring that an airbag deploys, its properties can also help to ensure that the airbag is effective after activation.

  • Silver may be used in the airbag inflator, the device that generates gas to inflate the airbag fully. Silver’s properties make it an effective catalyst for the chemical reactions that produce the gas.
  • Silver may be used as a coating on airbag fabric, enhancing the material’s durability and resistance to tear. 
Image of Red Dog Mine, photo credit belongs to Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority

Alaska Statistics

In 2022, Alaska mines ranked first and second nationally based on silver production volume:

  • Greens Creek Mine produced around 9.68 million ounces of silver. 
  • Red Dog Mine produced around 8.56 million ounces of silver.

In 2022, Alaska gold mines produced: 

  • Coeur Alaska-Kensington Gold Mine: 109,061 ounces of gold
  • Fort Knox Mine: 291,249 ounces of gold 
  • Pogo Gold Mine: 242,808 ounces of gold.

It is estimated that Donlin Gold mine will produce approximately one million ounces of gold per year.

Growing Demand

Silver’s electrical properties, durability in harsh conditions, and reliability make it a critical component of safe, modern vehicles. 

The auto manufacturing industry already uses millions of ounces of silver each year. As the industry continues to enhance safety features and implements increasingly sophisticated electronic components, the demand for silver will continue to grow.