Non-gem uses of diamonds beat Gem uses

Perhaps there was some eternal truth in the De Beers ad line ‘A Diamond is Forever’. The ad strived to establish an emotional connect for this gem as a proclamation of everlasting love. But unknown at the time, were the incredible uses of a diamond in industry, which are soon predicted to touch all human life connected to computing, listening to music, speaking on cellphones, wearing watches, undergoing a medical procedure or even wearing a gem quality diamond.

Predicts Clive Hill, President – Washington Diamonds Corporation, which produces Lab-grown diamonds, “Ultimately, diamond is the new super material that will be used far more widely than for merely gemstones. Within a decade, most people will own something with diamond within it. The non-gem uses will dwarf the gem uses of a diamond.”

Currently, as the hardest substance, diamonds are majorly used in various industrial applications for cutting, drilling, grinding and polishing. They are also used in the metal working and mining industries, for cutting diamonds and in manufacturing diamond polishing tools and abrasives, besides scientific applications in diamond knives. Diamond blades are used in the construction industry to cut stone, concrete, bricks, glass, coal balls and ceramics, or even to cut semiconductor materials in the IT industry or as an exfoliant in cosmetics.

Less developed for industrial applications are the other qualities of a diamond, which make it the most

[Image Courtesy: Littlegate Publishing, Element 6]
[Image Courtesy: Littlegate Publishing, Element 6]
effective heat conducting material that expands very little under high temperatures besides being resistant to most acids and alkalis and transparent to UV, visible and infrared light. For instance, its quality of highest thermal conductivity, better than any other bulk material, would make computers that heat up after use, especially in the summers, belong to the past. Also, being able to disperse light of different colours, diamonds have relatively high optical dispersion. These are the qualities which make the diamond a superlative material and have initiated a global move to use diamonds as a replacement for silicon microchips in the IT industry, which heat up the equipment.

Explains Clive Hill, “Diamond has the best thermal conduction of any material by far, and using diamonds as a replacement for silicon microchips is part of worldwide on-going efforts to move from electronic-signalling to optical-signalling. The diamonds’ high heat conductivity enables heat dissipation from high-power, high-density circuitry, which allows stable behaviour at very high temperatures. There is a huge benefit because at high power, getting rid of the heat is a major issue. This is for the future and should make sense to engineers who may wish to use those properties.”

These specialised applications for using diamonds as semi-conductors or as excellent electrical insulators are still being developed. Thin membranes of industrial diamonds are used in diagnostic medicine in lasers, x-ray machines and vacuum chambers, which makes the equipment durable and resistant to heat and abrasion. Industrial diamonds are also used to make surgical blades sharp and strong. These diamonds are used in speakers to enhance sound quality or even in high performance microelectronics and low friction microbearings in tiny mechanical devices for increasing durability.

There is a huge market for industrial diamonds, which has not yet been adequately exploited due to non-availability.

“Until now or soon industrial diamonds have not been available as needed or repeatedly, at a predictable price, and therefore not been a design option,” explains Clive Hill.

Demand for industrial diamonds far exceeds its supply, which has been limited, even though 80% of mined diamonds, badly flawed, poorly coloured or too small to be used as gems, are used in industry. Australia and Botswana are the major producers of industrial grade mined diamonds. As per a GIA report, since the 1870s, more than 4.5 billion carats or about 900,000 kilograms of diamonds have been mined. Nearly 135 million carats or 27,000 kilograms of diamonds are annually used in industry, which has never been sufficient.

However, the growth of Lab-grown diamond industry has given a boost to industrial diamonds, which are being produced at a lower cost per carat. Also, unlike mined diamonds, which take billions of years to grow and emerge from the earth, it takes few weeks – few months to grow diamonds in a laboratory. Huge quantities of industrial diamonds are estimated to be produced annually in laboratory with customers in industries ranging from oil and gas drilling to machining, optics and electronics.

Industrial diamonds produced in the laboratory could well be a sunrise sector.


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