Could a diamond be created without mining, out of a process which requires the capture of carbon dioxide and the use of rainwater?
Dale Vince, Founder of the British green energy provider Ecotricity, spoke to ELN about a new technology that could deliver in a few months what is considered to be ‘the world’s most eco-friendly’ diamond, named ‘Sky diamond’ – he said: “We take the carbon dioxide directly from the air, we use rainwater, we split it to make hydrogen and then we use hydrogen and carbon dioxide to make methane.
“And then we put methane and hydrogen into diamond mills and cook the diamonds in balls of plasma kept at about 8,000°C. And it takes two weeks to grow the diamond.”
The process begins when carbon dioxide is captured. It is then liquefied and purified, mixed with hydrogen obtained from rainwater by a chemical process called hydrolysis.
Hydrogen is then made into methane. This is pumped on to ‘diamond seeds’, five- to seven-millimetre square thin pieces of the diamond at a laboratory at Stroud, in Gloucestershire. The carbon in the gas attaches to the ‘seeds’ and forms the crystal structure of a diamond.
The facility will soon produce its first gems for customers.
Mr Vince added: “Early in the new year we will be able to deliver these ‘green’ diamonds in the market. We are currently in a pre-production stage. We have estimated that we can produce 200 carats a month.”
He explains the £5 million project was his idea: “It was ten years ago while I was working on ways to take carbon out of the atmosphere at scale. Immediately thought that’s only half the battle as it needs to be stored in a permanent form as well, otherwise, it would be only temporary. And I thought the most permanent form for carbon is a diamond. For seven years we were working to pursue this goal. For the last two years, we were working on perfecting the quality of the gems. We are now ready to get into proper production. The diamonds are fully certified by the International Gemological Institute.”
But are these ‘sky diamonds’ going to be sold at the same prices as natural diamonds?
He said: “The problem with the natural diamonds in the market is that the price fluctuates widely depending on who buys it, where they buy it and when they buy it. We think that is wrong. We are going to have a simpler price structure.”
According to a recent white paper on the impact of traditional mining drafted by researchers from Imperial College London, just to produce a one-carat stone, a diamond mine will shift 1,000 tonnes of rock and earth.
That amount weighs the same as around 625 cars, according to the research.
That same one-carat diamond will require around 3,890 litres of water and will generate 108.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, which is enough gas to fill two shipping containers.
Mr Vince said: ‘Making diamonds from nothing more than the sky, from the air we breathe is a magical, evocative idea. It’s a modern alchemy. Its industry fit for the 21st century, going beyond low or even zero emissions our new process puts back air that is cleaner than we take out, we have negative emissions.
“This is a new benchmark. We need to live more sustainably in all aspects of life. Too often that looks difficult.”