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Diamonds can be grown in a lab in less than 3 hours

A team of researchers led by the Institute for Basic Science Center for Multidimensional Carbon Material (CMCM) in Korea has recently developed a method to produce lab-grown diamonds in just 150 minutes, offering a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to natural diamonds. 

Diamonds at a fraction of the cost

The lab-created diamonds are indistinguishable to the naked eye from their natural counterparts, but they exhibit significant differences under a microscope, which contributes to their substantially lower price.

While natural diamonds take billions of years to form, lab-grown diamonds can be produced quickly and at a fraction of the cost. For example, in the US, a one-carat princess-cut diamond costs an average of $2,500, whereas a comparable lab-grown diamond is priced at just $500. 

Structure of lab-grown diamonds 

The process involves mixing silicon with liquid metals such as gallium, iron, and nickel in a crucible and heating it to 1,877 degrees Fahrenheit. The mixture is then exposed to methane and hydrogen gasses, which dissolve into carbon gas that combines with the silicon, prompting the carbon atoms to bond together and form small diamond crystals.

Senior author Rodney Ruoff emphasized the crucial role of silicon in this synthetic process. “If we don’t add some silicon, we don’t get diamonds,” he explained. Moreover, the researchers found that diamond formation continues to progress over time, with the full structure forming at 150 minutes.

Expanding lab-grown diamond industry

Despite this breakthrough, the diamonds produced are still only about 100 nanometers across, roughly the size of a typical virus. However, Ruoff is optimistic about the future of this technology. “A lot of labs around the world are going to start cooking things up,” he said, predicting that this could revolutionize the already expanding lab-grown diamond industry.

The lab-grown diamond market has experienced rapid growth, increasing from less than one percent of global diamond sales in 2015 to approximately 20 percent by the end of last year. 

Lower cost of lab-grown diamonds 

This surge is primarily due to their lower cost. For example, a two-carat lab-grown diamond costs about $1,000, much less than the $13,000 to $14,000 price range for a similar natural diamond.

“Prices of lab-grown diamonds are falling. The reason is because of simple supply and demand. So many manufacturers are coming out and flooding the market with them, which is causing prices to dive,” said Mehul Sompura, CEO of Diamond Hedge. “For the most part, it’s difficult to distinguish between the two, but it has to do with impurities, and with a microscope you can see growth patterns. You won’t get your money back, that’s the main problem.”

Sustainable alternative to blood diamonds

Lab-grown diamonds also offer a sustainable alternative to blood diamonds – diamonds mined in war zones and sold to finance an invading army’s war efforts, an insurgency, terrorism, or a warlord’s activity –  and can reduce the environmental impact associated with traditional diamond mining. For every carat of diamond mined, nearly 100 square feet of land is affected and 5,798 pounds of mineral waste is created.

“Diamonds are very ingrained in our culture. I think, as humans, we just desire these rare, precious gemstones and metals. It’s not practical, but it makes us feel good,” concluded Paul Zimnisky, a leading diamond industry analyst.

More about diamonds 

Diamonds, often celebrated for their brilliance and durability, are one of the hardest natural substances found on Earth, making them highly sought after for jewelry and industrial applications. They form under high-pressure, high-temperature conditions existing deep within the Earth’s mantle, from where they are brought closer to the surface through volcanic eruptions. The process can take between 1 to 3.3 billion years.

The allure of diamonds is not just in their sparkle but also in their rarity, which makes them symbols of wealth and status. Each diamond is unique, with characteristics such as cut, color, clarity, and carat weight determining its value. 

The cut of a diamond affects its ability to reflect light, enhancing its visual properties, while the clarity refers to the presence of internal inclusions or external blemishes. The color can range from colorless to light yellow and brown, with truly colorless diamonds being the rarest and most valuable.

The mining and distribution of diamonds have been associated with conflict and ethical concerns, leading to initiatives like the Kimberley Process, which aims to prevent “conflict diamonds” from entering the market.

The study is published in the journal Nature.


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