The future of diamonds is in recaptured CO2 pollution

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Written by SciTechNerds

February 11, 2021

MIRNY, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 1, 2018: A view of a kimberlite pipe of the Mir diamond mine of ALROSA's Mirny Mining and Processing Division (MPD). Alexander Ryumin/TASS (Photo by Alexander RyuminTASS via Getty Images)

Diamonds haven’t always been a woman’s best friend. Before the 1930’s, they have been no extra synonymous with weddings than opals, rubies and sapphires which had been routinely utilized in engagement rings for hundreds of years. It actually wasn’t till DeBeers — the South African mining firm which has traditionally managed around 85 percent of the worldwide diamond market — launched its “A Diamond Is Forever” advertising and marketing scheme within the 1940s that demand for the sparkly stones skyrocketed.

An estimated 142 million carats of tough diamonds have been dug out of mines worldwide in 2019 — typically at reprehensible environmental and human costs. Pulling only one carat of diamond out of the bottom calls for staff to maneuver near 100 sq. ft of soil, leading to almost 6,000 kilos of waste materials and as much as a ton of launched carbon dioxide. Strip mines, such as the Mir mine in Eastern Siberia beneath, may be seen from the ISS.

Alexander Ryumin by way of Getty Photographs

“I don’t need science to tell that [lab-grown diamonds] is less bad than [the Mir mine in Siberia],” diamond service provider Alexander Weindling informed The Guardian final March. “My eyes tell me that’s a lot worse for our planet. We don’t need to dig these huge holes in the earth any more that are visible from space. We used to hunt whales. We don’t do that anymore do we?”

In Africa, the place 65 p.c of the world’s diamonds are produced, mines routinely make use of youngster and teenage laborers at slave wages in harmful working situations. The apply grew so egregious in current a long time that in 2003, the worldwide group needed to set up the Kimberly process to assist stop so-called “blood diamonds” — these produced in conflict zones and whose gross sales funded these combating efforts — from reaching market. Nonetheless the method is riddled with loopholes which have largely defanged its enforcement.

“Today, if you have a child working for $3 a day doing backbreaking work waist deep in a river sifting for diamonds, that’s called ‘artisanal mining,’” Ryan Shearman, Founder and CEO of Aether Diamonds mentioned in a current name with Engadget. “It’s not called child abuse, and that skates through the Kimberley Process because the proceeds from that diamond sale didn’t go to fund a local warlord.”

The pure diamond business has additionally confronted a collection of financial challenges in recent times together with a glut of inventory in 2019 — regardless of diamonds’ values continually being touted as on account of their “rarity” — and the COVID-19 pandemic, which noticed demand for diamonds plummet in 2020. Costs for high-quality 1-carat stones nonetheless managed to rise about 12 percent in 2020, 12 months over 12 months, nevertheless decrease high quality and smaller measurement diamonds have seen their values drop between 15 and 27 p.c over the identical interval.

“If you are in that top end, the demand is still there because the people who go for these types of goods feel the pressure of the market downturn less,” Gus Simbanegavi, CEO of Bluerock Diamonds BRD.L, informed Reuters.

That certain looks as if quite a lot of bother for a fabric we’ve recognized the atomic make-up of since 1797 and have been in a position to develop beneath laboratory situations for almost 70 years. Basic Electrical was the primary firm to commercialize the method. In 1941, GE partnered with the Norton and Carborundum corporations and managed to warmth carbon samples to five,430 levels F at pressures in extra of 510,000 PSI earlier than it quickly paused the challenge for WWII. This system resumed in 1951 and, by 1954, had succeeded in creating the primary commercially viable lab-grown diamond. These first few batches have been offered as heatsinks for electronics to be used in analysis. Gem-quality lab-grown diamonds wouldn’t arrive in jewellery shows till the 1980s.

This picture taken on September 23, 2019, in Paris, shows lab-grown diamonds in the headquarters of the Diam-Concept company as they are growing in a plasma reactor. - Growing diamonds identical to those extracted from a mine in a few weeks, and cheaper: this is the successful bet of the Diam-Concept start-up company based in the north of Paris that is about to intensify its production, taking advantage of the breakthrough of laboratory stones on the jewelry market. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP) (Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)
LIONEL BONAVENTURE by way of Getty Photographs

Today, diamond labs all over the world develop greater than 100 tons of the mineral yearly. “They’re identical [to natural diamonds] at the atomic level,” Sharman mentioned. “They have the exact same chemical, mechanical and optical properties, and there’s not a human being on the planet that can tell the difference. The only way you can do so is by essentially running a chemical analysis — and lab grown diamonds are in fact more pure than what comes from the ground.”

Aether’s merchandise are particularly distinctive given the novel technique of their creation. “We are utilizing direct air capture technology to pull harmful atmospheric CO2, Shearman explained. “We then take that through a bit of modern alchemy, and the proprietary manufacturing process we’ve developed, to turn it into gem grade diamonds.”

Every one in every of Aether’s air seize reactors is reportedly in a position to take in as much as 50 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 12 months, nevertheless the corporate has pledged to suck 20 metric tons of CO2 — that’s greater than the 16 metric tons your common American generates in a 12 months — for each carat of diamond that it produces. From begin to end, rising such diamonds takes round 12 weeks in complete.

“The problem with most lab grown diamonds, other than Aether diamonds, is that they still need to source their carbon from somewhere,” Shearman mentioned. “Oftentimes, that comes from fossil fuels which is obtained via drilling and fracking. And so, as much as lab grown diamond brands out there claim to be sustainable, a lot of it I’m afraid is greenwashing language, because even if they’re using environmentally friendly power (which most of them aren’t) they’re still relying on fossil fuels for their carbon and that’s a finite resource.”

The corporate is cautious in the place it sources the remainder of its supplies as properly, from the metallic utilized in setting the stones to the packaging that they’re shipped in. “We either use ultrasuede that is created from plant biomass or we use New Zealand wool for inserts in our ring boxes,” Aether CFO Robert Hagemann added. “And then [we use] all FSC certified interior cardboard structures for our pieces. We also do carbon offsets for the logistics.”

Along with being extra ecologically pleasant, Aether’s grown diamonds are roughly 40 p.c cheaper than their pure counterparts. That signifies that even on the low finish of the market, say, a diamond solitaire ring that will value $5000 to $6000 on the Zales in your native mall would solely set you again simply $3700 have been the gems made in Aether’s lab.

aether
Aether Diamonds

Aether’s efforts might have a disruptive impact on the worldwide diamond market, an externality that the corporate is hoping for. “If we take more market share, it’s going to put those types of companies that are abusing these people out of business,” Hagemann mentioned. “That’s good and bad. It’s good because it ends something that probably shouldn’t be happening to begin with,” however dangerous as a result of the previously exploited staff at the moment are out of a job.

To counter this, the corporate is seeking to work with NGOs and nonprofits on retraining efforts or maybe “establishing a footprint for solar power generation… there’s a lot of different ways we can come in and have a positive benefit in areas that have had this historical negative impact,” Hagemann mentioned. “That’s a big goal for us.”

Trying forward, Hagemann and Shearman hope to make Aether’s whole operation — not simply its diamonds — carbon detrimental by 2023. To take action, the group plans to vertically combine its varied phases of manufacturing. “The more we control around our supply chain, the better off we’ll be with limiting our overall carbon footprint,” Shearman famous. The corporate additionally hopes to begin using wind as an influence supply, “being able to integrate sustainable power generation on site is something that we’ve talked about since the earliest days of the company.” Ultimately Aether needs to succeed in a stage of effectivity the place the corporate can push any extra power manufacturing again to the native municipal grid.

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