Lab created diamonds, alternatively known as lab-created diamonds, are diamonds that are created in laboratories using advanced technology. The process replicates the conditions found in the earth’s mantle, where natural diamonds are formed beneath the earth’s crust. These lab created diamonds are composed of real carbon atoms arranged in the distinct crystal structure of diamonds. Due to being composed of the same material as natural diamonds, lab created diamonds possess similar optical and chemical properties.
While the humanitarian aspects related to lab created diamonds and mined diamonds remain complex, there is one area where lab created diamonds demonstrate an advantage over naturally occurring diamonds. It is in terms of environmental impact.
Environmental and Industrial Benefits Offered by Lab created Diamonds
Lab-made diamonds can be used to purify polluted water sources. This is achieved by introducing the mineral boron during the diamond-growing process, resulting in a “boron-doped diamond” capable of conducting electricity. By applying current to the diamond, a process called mineralization occurs, which oxidizes otherwise toxic organic compounds, transforming them into biodegradable forms.
Jason Payne, CEO of Ada Diamonds, argues that lab created diamonds can also significantly reduce carbon footprints in communication and transportation sectors. Lab created diamonds have a competitive advantage over mined diamonds in terms of their purity and hardness, as they have been discovered to be ten times more sturdy than natural diamonds. Payne asserts that a diamond surpasses silicon and other materials as the ultimate recognized semiconductor. By using lab created diamonds in transistors, energy losses as heat during electricity transmission from power plants to devices like mobile phones during charging can be reduced. The US Department of Energy reports that diamond-based components can decrease these losses by up to 90%.
Furthermore, a thin layer of diamond coating has exhibited the potential to decrease friction in various moving mechanical components, spanning from wind turbines to cars. Nissan reported a friction reduction of approximately 40% in engine parts when utilizing diamond film. In contrast to lab created diamonds, mined diamonds lack the required purity for many of these applications, according to Payne’s argument.
Only 30% of diamonds are used for jewelry, with the majority being utilized in drilling, cutting, and grinding applications. Lab created diamonds can actually contribute to environmental benefit in these regards, just as they offer other industrial benefits.
Are Naturally Occurring Diamonds Worth the Trouble?
The benefits offered by lab created diamonds such as at one of the leader sellers of lab created diamonds Diamonds-USA.com are in a sharp contrast with naturally occurring diamonds sold.
An estimated 250 tons of earth is moved to extract a single carat of diamond. In 2018, approximately 148 million carats were mined, and some of the mines have become so large that they are visible from space using NASA’s Terra satellite. Nonetheless, according to a 2014 report from consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the energy consumption per carat for mined diamonds is double that of lab created diamonds. The report estimated that mining a single carat of diamond releases around 57 kg of carbon into the atmosphere, while lab created diamonds emit only a few grams. It’s important to note that the reliability of this report has been questioned by some industry experts, particularly regarding the assumption of using renewable energy in the production of lab created diamonds.
The previously mentioned report by Trucost, commissioned by the Diamond Producers Association, provided different estimates. According to Trucost, lab created diamonds produce approximately 510 kg CO2 emissions per polished carat, whereas mined diamonds generate around 160 kg CO2 emissions per polished carat.
Anglo American, the parent company of De Beers, has launched a project aimed at decreasing the environmental impact and carbon emissions associated with diamond mining. Their researchers, led by geologist Evelyn Mervine, are exploring a process called “mineral carbonation.” This process aims to capture carbon dioxide inside a porous mined rock known as kimberlite, thus offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the mining process.
Apart from carbon emissions, diamond mining also causes other environmental damage. Acid mine drainage, a phenomenon where minerals from mined rocks contaminate water sources, is a significant issue associated with diamond mining. This pollution of water sources is not exclusive to the diamond industry but is also observed in various metal and coal mines. The University of Waterloo researchers have partnered with the Diavik diamond gem mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories to tackle this issue and reduce environmental contamination caused by waste rock.
Habitat destruction is another consequence of diamond mining. For instance, In 2016, The Wall Street Journal disclosed that De Beers, caused the deaths of more than 18,000 fish as they depleted a Canadian lake for diamond extraction. In addition, diamond mining in India has been detrimental to highly endangered tiger populations, exacerbating their challenges.
In 2015, The New York Times, Michael J. Kowalski, the former CEO of Tiffany, emphasized that mining is one of the industries with the most significant impact on the environment and society. While both the lab created diamonds and mined diamonds industries have their drawbacks, the environmental impact may be higher with mined diamonds.
Monstrous truck to move gravel from the mining pit
The environmental and humanitarian concerns related to diamond mining are intertwined. Some diamond mines exploit workers under unsafe conditions and pay low wages. Even diamonds obtained through the Kimberley Process, established to mitigate the trade of conflict diamonds, can have uncertain origins. According to an anonymous source from the conflict resources team at Global Witness, the Kimberley Process has flaws. The source explains that the current definition of a conflict diamond under the Kimberley Process is limited to diamonds funding armed groups seeking to overthrow legitimate governments. Nevertheless, the connection between extracted diamonds and violations of human rights has surpassed the boundaries of this definition. The source points out a case in Zimbabwe during the mid-2000s, where the discovery of diamonds led to the deaths of numerous civilian miners. According to a Global Witness report, these diamonds were later exchanged in both Antwerp and Dubai, freely moving within the international markets.
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Although lab created diamonds have environmental drawbacks, such as significant energy requirements, they have been able to make up for this by giving back to the environment by increasing environmental benefits in industrial applications like water purification and energy transmission. On the other hand, naturally occurring diamonds have proven to be a nuisance to our environment and have also given an avenue for human rights to be violated. In light of these, it is clear that lab created diamonds have the potential to become a significant part of the diamond industry and may indeed be the future of diamonds.