Silver is a soft, white, lustrous transition metal that is found in the Earth's crust in pure and free elemental form. High ductility, electrical conductivity, malleability, and reflectivity are the physical properties exhibited by silver.
Though silver is mined as main product at several mines, it is mainly obtained as a byproduct from lead-zinc mines, copper mines, and gold mines. It is used in antimicrobial bandages, clothing, pharmaceuticals, and plastics, batteries, electroplating, inks, mirrors, photovoltaic solar cells, and water purification.
In 2017, the world’s silver mine production stood at 26,800 metric tons, to a report by the US Geological Survey (USGS).
With a production of 6,100 metric tons in 2017, Mexico is the top silver producing country in the world. The country is home of some of the biggest silver mines in the world. The mines include Penasquito, Pitarrilla mine, and Fresnillo mine. Penasquito is a poly-metallic mine containing gold, silver, lead and zinc. Owned by Goldcorp, the open pit mine started commercial operations in 2010. The Pitarrilla mine, which is estimated to hold measured and indicated mineral resources of 497.3 million ounces of silver, was discovered SSR Mining in 2002. Located about 60km north-west of Zacatecas in Mexico, Fresnillo mine is regarded as the world’s biggest primary silver producing mine.
The South American nation produced 4,300 metric tons of silver in 2017. Antamina mine, which is one of the world’s biggest silver mines, is located 200km from the city of Huaraz in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Silver and lead concentrates are the byproducts produced by the copper-zinc mine. The Antamina mine started commercial production in 2001. It is owned and operated by Compania Minera Antamina, a joint venture between BHP Billiton (33.75%), Xstrata (33.75%), Teck (22.5%) and Mitsubishi Corporation (10%). Other major silver mines in the country include Arcata mine, Berenguela mine, Crespo mine and Huaron mine.
China produced 3,500 metric tons of silver in 2017. The country is also one of the leading consumers of silver in the world. According to a reported published by the Silver Institute in September 2018, China’s consumption of silver for solar applications reached an estimated 65 million ounces in 2017. In December 2018, the country announced a discovery of a huge silver deposit, which is estimated to contain of a minimum of 1,500 tons of silver, RT reported. The discovery was made in in Henan Province and is part of the Zhonghe deposit area, which is estimated to hold 280,000 tons of lead and 320,000 tons of zinc, according to the Henan Bureau of Geo-exploration and Mineral Development.
Producing 1,290 metric tons of silver in 2017, Poland stands at fourth spot in the list. The country holds some of the biggest silver mines in the world. The Polkowice-Sieroszowice mine, Lubin mine and Rudna are the major mines in the country. The Polkowice-Sieroszowice mine is a copper-silver mine, which is owned and operated by state-owned mining enterprise KGHM. According to the KGHM website, production capacity of the mine is 12 million tons of ore annually. Mining at the site is done by using blasting technology with various room-pillar systems with roof settlement. KGHM also owns and operates the Lubin mine, which has been operational since 1968. Rudna mine is also owned by KGHM.
With a production of 1,260 metric tons in 2017, Chile is one of key silver producing countries in the world. A significant part of silver extraction in the country comes as a by-product from copper and gold mines. La Coipa gold and silver mine and Escondida copper-gold-silver mine are the among the major silver mines in the country. La Coipa gold and silver mine lies within the Atacama region of Chile, while Escondida copper-gold-silver mine is located in the arid, northern Atacama Desert.