A catalyst is a substance that allows or facilitates a chemical process. For example, heat is the world’s most common catalyst and helps many processes to take place — such as cooking food or baking pastries. Silver, because of its unique chemical properties, has become an increasingly important catalyst for many industrial processes.
More than 700 tons of silver annually are used in the world’s chemical industry for the production of two compounds – ethylene oxide and formaldehyde – both essential to the plastics industry. Approximately 90 percent of the silver employed as an industrial catalyst is used for the production of ethylene oxide from ethylene. Ethylene oxide is the foundation for flexible plastics such as polyester textiles, used to make all types of clothing and a variety of specialty fabrics. It is also used for molded items such as insulating handles for stoves, key tops for computers, electrical control knobs, domestic appliance components, and electrical connector housings. About 25 percent of ethylene oxide production is used to produce antifreeze coolant for automobiles and other vehicles.
Formaldehyde, a chemical produced from methanol, is the building block of solid plastics including adhesives, laminating resins for construction plywood and particle board. Formaldehyde also helps to produce finishes for paper and electronic equipment, textiles, surface coatings that resist heat and scratches, dinnerware and buttons, casings for appliances, handles and knobs, packaging materials, automotive parts, thermal and electrical insulating materials, toys and many other products.
Source: The Silver Institute