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Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

Posted June 22, 2009 6:00 AM by Dead Weight

Prior to the rise of carbon nanotubes, one of the most prominent topics in materials was the development of synthetic diamonds. These actual diamond-structure carbon crystals are formed in a lab, and are not to be confused with artificial gemstones such as cubic zirconia. They are also different from natural diamonds, which (as their name suggests) occur in nature.

The development of synthetic diamonds offered the promise of a usable substance with the highest room-temperature thermal conductivity and the lowest electrical conductivity of any known material, along with incredible strength and hardness. At the time, it was anticipated that synthetic diamonds would find uses in everything from semiconductors to cutting tools to actual mechanical components. Several years later, however, synthetic diamonds have still managed to find little use outside of simple tool coatings for drill bits and saw blades.

Producing Synthetic Diamonds

In terms of production, diamond synthesis involves the relatively simple process of chemical vapor deposition (CVD). With CVD, the carbon atoms of a hydrocarbon gas align themselves into a crystal atop a substrate material. In modern labs, this can be accomplished at growth speeds up to 100 micrometers/hour.

Chemical vapor deposition has been used to grow single-crystal diamonds up to 10 carats in size, or roughly a half inch in diameter. While this may not sound large enough to produce anything incredibly useful, these numbers are only for single-crystal diamonds, a special variety that is useful for making incredibly hard objects or semiconductors. Multi-grained crystals, which are similar to diamonds found in nature, have been grown at similar rates, but into the shapes of wafers several inches in diameter.

Planing, Slicing, and Possible Applications

Once produced, both diamond types can be planed down or sliced into wafers (using lasers) to make machine components, suitable substrates for semiconductors, and even high-performance windows for use in extreme environments. What's more is that early versions of all of these components have been successfully made and tested in the past few years. To date, however, none have found widespread commercial or even academic use.

Despite proven methods of production and possible applications, academic and scientific interest in synthetic diamonds has declined dramatically in the wake of nanotubes, and the possible profits nanotubes could bring if they ever manage to become commercially or scientifically viable.

Will synthetic diamonds (and all of their remarkable properties) ever get the chance to live up to their anticipated uses; or, like many great potential technologies before them, have they been left in the past after a shift in public interest?

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#1

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/22/2009 9:34 AM

Welcome to CR4, Dead Weight! Very interesting blog entry.

How do synthetic diamonds compare to carbon nanotubes in terms of cost? Are they signficantly cheaper? When all the hoopla about nanotechnology subsides, might synthetic diamonds become all "bright and shiny" once again?

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/22/2009 10:04 AM

Hi Moose, thanks for the comment.

As far as I'm aware, nanotube production is cheaper, but the two materials aren't really comparable in most regards. Nanotubes for example, due to their tubular structures, cannot be formed into single crystals for things like semiconductor substrates. This is the saddest part of the story, because diamonds and nanotubes are both unique materials, but just because popular focus has shifted to nanotubes, synthetic diamond research has suffered considerably.

At some point, diamond technology might be necessary as a replacement for silicon-based semiconductors in particular, but when that will happen, or whether some completely new material will come along and steal the spotlight from both of them, is anyone's guess.

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#3

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/22/2009 10:42 AM

Very good article. I hope that more research and innovation goes into these synthetic diamonds. It sounds like these diamonds could have a positive impact if they ever get to the commercial market.

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#4

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/22/2009 3:08 PM

It's all about investment isn't it. The interest in nanomaterials is drawing the investment dollars. But this is still very much in the development phase.

Maybe it's recessionomics that is slowing the commercialization of the synthetic diamond products. You say that the applications are proven and the methods validated, but someone still has to capitalize large scale production facilities, with a schedule to amortize those setup costs and a plan to market the product.

If the synthetic diamond products are better, more durable versions of existing alternatives, but are more expensive, then a recession is a hard time to look for market share at a higher price range. In that case, I would expect it to become more viable when the economic gloom has passed.

The other question is, whether the synthetic diamond producers have the right network established with other industries, to get their semiconductor or electronic apps integrated into the design of new commercial models or products. Those relationships are crucial. but may be difficult to establish unless the production facilities are already in place to guarantee delivery of large quantities.

Making contacts with producers who are in the design phases of product development, offering to provide custom prototypes for specific needs, would be one approach to building the kind of relationship needed to capitalize the production facilities. Where could diamond product offer the partner a competitive edge?

Is there a way to partner with nano, and develop synthetic diamond/nanotube semiconductor or other components that use both materials?

I have to say I'm a big fan of cutting tool applications for synthetic diamond, and recently got a new set of burs - very inexpensive, made in China. Seriously a 20 bur set for under $5 USD. Haven't tested em yet so no comment on the quality. Looks like they are already mass producing tool-grade diamond, though. How would these capabilities compare with the facilities needed to produce wafers?

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#5
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Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/22/2009 10:50 PM

Hi! Dead Weight,

Your article is interesting indeed. I thought I should let you know that I am working with a company in the development of Diamond Like Coating for lining the reactor pipes. Test done to date are promising. Once all teething problems are resolved, you would see many pipes in Chemical Plants lined with this material which has all the properties that your article states.

The CVD process is used and the deposition machine looks high tech.

Just to assure you, things are happening and research work is in progress.

Prem

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#6

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 4:13 AM

Hi,

you can buy artificial diamonds as gemstones or for industrial use.

Production is mostly in Ukrainia and Russia, but transferred and modernised with respect to measurement and control to Florida. They should be in production since a year or two, but I have to ask about the situation.

This is the 1 carat and more situation.

Synthesis is done in big thick-walled steel spheres, made from two halves that are secured together by an optimised bayonet, internal 6 hydraulic cushions that form a cubic void. I have no information about the container and heating and measurement and sealing that matches to this cube. Pressure can be established and maintained much easier and longer than in the belt structure.

The smaller sizes - from below 1 µm up to 1 mm crystals - are produced large scale since decades by GE, de Beers, Sumitomo, and Russian and Chinese newcomers.

(And some more "backyard-producers" good and cheap stuff but not really competitive in quality and predictability.

This is done by the "belt"-method, where highly prestressed cylindrical dies with a cylindrical container in the center are subject to pressures fro 60 to 120 Kbar and temperatures near 1300°C for some minutes. These containers containing any form of carbon as start material and iron or nickel and similar as catalyst. So you need a 100 to 1000 ton press to operate this. Crystals from this process (0.7mm size) made by Element-six were used in our experimental brazings for dressing tools (see below).

If crystallisation time is prolonged to weeks it is possible to grow bigger crystals: too expensive.

These old developments are pretty well documented in the book:

Elwell, Man made Gemstones. (Publisher and year on request, I have to dig my heaps).

The newer process of low pressure plasma diamonds needs a carbon containing precursor gas (methane) and a high frequency excitation (13MHz to some GHz) and an efficient exciter to plasma coupling of energy. May be using one of the many plasma resonances, may be using the electron cyclotron resonance.

By this excitation the ions get so much energy that an implantation into the existing surface takes place, quenching the energy within picoseconds and generating a high and ultrashort pressure pulse that leads to some diamond crystallisation takes place mixed with some more graphitic. The graphitic regions are etched simultaneously with the growth process by either oxygen or carbon-monoxide (low content so not explosive with methane).

The material can be obtained in thicknesses up to some (5?) mm. This material is not true mono-crystalline as there are some small angle grain boundaries existing but for tools and measurement balls it is perfectly suited.

We did a ball (3mm) to carbide shaft experimental brazing (in vacuum) 6 years ago. See below.

The semiconductor situation is more complicated as until now there is only one dopant known and for traditional electronics with pnp- and npn-transistors both types should be known.

RHABE

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#7

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 6:38 AM

You may have stumbled on the process for that new Luther Forest semi-conductor plant.

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#8

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 7:04 AM

My tenth wedding anniversary is coming up soon...I could take one of those worthless 10 carat rocks to keep it out of the landfills

Next blog topic: Who knows how to cut a huge diamond for cheap?

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#15
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Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 12:27 PM

Don't laugh - the gem stones from Russia are very beautiful and can even fool some jewelry appraisers. I had purchased a 3 ct pink diamond ring for my partner (paid around $40 + SH from Russia). She loves it! The jewelry appraiser wasn't quite sure what to make of it - he noted it was a "perfect" diamond and then finally realized that it was man-made as there are no perfect natural diamonds. It has all the properties of a diamond (unlike CZ's which will turn color over time) and holds it's value - but don't buy them for an investment - they will never be valued the same as real diamonds.

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#16
In reply to #15

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 2:44 PM

Can they do earrings? My brother-in-law and I concluded that earrings needs to be sparkly like real ones but nobody is going to cradle your earlobe (like they would a hand wearing a wedding ring) to look up close.

$40...not bad...where? via the web? Did you visit?

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#17
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Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 3:25 PM

I'm with KKJensen, I want to know where you can get one of those. My wife and I have an anniversary coming up...

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#18
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Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 3:55 PM

Greetings kkjensen and Rorschach. You can score big with these gifts... and the great part is if they do get lost or damaged, my girl is the worst at both of these, you don't get to upset because you didn't break the bank buying them.

I have purchased several items from FASHIONMATE on ebay. My first purchase was in 2003 and I have been pleased with all of them. I have purchased diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds... necklaces, earrings, brackets, rings. They have different items listed at different times. You can always email them and request something specific and see if they can provide it. By the way, I am not affiliated with them in any way... other than being a satisfied customer who loves giving those "Oh my God" gifts on a budget.

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Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 4:11 PM

I just did a search on eBay and found that FASHIONMATE only had one item listed. I went through my history files and found my other source for man made diamonds. That seller is JEWELRYQUEEN 1000. Good luck and happy shopping!

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#9

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 7:29 AM

Wow, thanks for all of your inputs.

Right now I'm an undergrad at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and research on diamonds has pretty much been a dead issue there lately. It's interesting to read comments and have solid questions raised from people actually in the industry or familiar with the topic. Good to see diamond technology is still in the works in some places.

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#10
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Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 7:41 AM

I think it's not really a research topic anymore because they've finally got it figured out how to make them bigger than the dust used to coat tools, etc.

It takes a huge amount of pressure and heat to make a diamond and the equipment I've seen was no small thing to manufacture. We've likely just lacking real uses for larger stones. The diamonds sold for jewelry are all controlled by one family who keeps the supply low and prices up (and we thought that big oil was a consipiracy?!?) but their goal has been to keep things stable.

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#11

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 10:19 AM

Synthetic diamonds are far from a forgotten technology! Thousands are made a month here in Houston alone by companies like Hughes Christensen and ReedHycalog and Smith International and all the other specialized rock bit manufacturers. PCD (Poly-Crystalline Diamond) rock bits are used in all oil and gas drilling. These are not to be confused with CVD diamondlike coatings which also find great use in things like valve trim parts and tool and die work. Praxair and Semtech (for just two examples) both make millions a year plasma spray coating parts with the stuff (among other things as well.).

PCD diamonds are actually large carat synthetic black diamonds that are made in high pressure anvils inside carrier cups that are then brazed into the bit face. Most are about 3/8" to 1/2" in dimeter by 1/2"-5/8" lg cylinders, black in a nickel alloy cup.

Definitely not the size of dust.

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#12

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 11:56 AM

I am not familiar with nanotubes, but I saw a program on the discovery channel about an open pit mine in northern Canada that mines natural diamonds from a former volcano site. They appear to be getting a very good return for their investment.

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#14
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Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 12:03 PM

yup...lots of diamonds up there. They all get laser engraved with tiny polar bear to distinguish them.

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#21
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Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/24/2009 11:31 AM

that sounds more like a mega tube than a nano tube

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#13

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 12:02 PM

Here some may be useful links.

RHABE

http://www.diamond.info/forum/index.php?showtopic=4339


www.d.neadiamonds.com
www.gemesis.com
www.chatham.com
www.takaradiamonds.com
www.apollodiamond.com

www.lucentdiamonds.com

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/diamonds-on-demand.html

http://news.cnet.com/Synthetic-diamonds-still-a-rough-cut/2100-11395_3-6159542.html

http://www.bypdiamonds.com/synthetic-diamonds.htm

http://www.khulsey.com/jewelry/synthetic_diamonds.html

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#20

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/23/2009 5:20 PM

I used to work in the semiconductor industry. I know that the company I worked for stopped looking into using diamond as a layer because the coefficient of expansion was just too different from other materials the diamond would have to be bonded to. Even though the heat dissipation and electrical non-conductivity were great the bonding problem caused serious device failures. Creating the diamond film was not that big an issue. Making it work was the problem. Cleaning up the diamond film residue- now that was a problem I could have lived without. You just can not make diamonds non abrasive

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#22

Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

06/24/2009 11:40 AM

a radio 4 programme gave another use, after trying a diamond coated frying pan the contributor discovered the opposite of anti-stick. A bit of lateral thinking on his part and this coating is now used where support pins for bone exit the skin (see thumbnail). Previously this was a site for infection, a bit like a convex meniscus but with the diamond coating the skin adheres to the pin perfectly a bit like a concave meniscus and seals. (it has to be cut away afterwards of course).

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#23
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Re: Synthetic Diamonds: A Forgotten Material?

07/14/2009 8:07 AM

What a great innovation! I wonder what other diamond coated pins n' medical devices are being used.

A while ago, I replaced my Teflon skillets and frying pans with ones made with "diamond crystals in a nano-composite," as is advertised on the cookware maker's website, SwissDiamond.com. This non-stick cookware cooks and cleans just as well, but it's not cheap. The smallest fry pan is $50(US). Still the health benefits from using diamond-coat over flaking Teflon pans trumps the cost, no question.

Everyone's posts here have been great to read. Thank you.

And thank you, Dead Weight - good stuff.

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