Scientists Could Turn Fossil Fuel Molecule into Diamond

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 - 14:43

Scientists at Stanford University could develop a new type of artificial diamond with a molecule found in crude oil and natural gas serving as their starting point.

According to the New Atlas report, conventional diamonds take shape hundreds of miles beneath the Earth's surface, under extreme heat and pressure that causes carbon to crystalize into the valuable stones.

The researchers at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences set out to find a simpler way of making such valuable stone.

“We wanted to see just a clean system, in which a single substance transforms into pure diamond – without a catalyst,” said the study’s lead author, Sulgiye Park.

In crafting their new synthetic diamonds, the scientists began with powders refined from tanks of petroleum. Inspecting these materials through a powerful microscope, the team observed patterns of atoms in the powders that were organized in the same way as atoms that make up diamond crystals, presenting as small units made up of one, two or three cages.

Unlike conventional diamonds, these different diamondoids, as they are known, consist purely of carbon, in that they contain hydrogen as well. The team then packed these diamondoids into what is known as a diamond anvil cell, which is a device scientists often use to create extreme pressures and produce ultra-hard materials.

These materials were then heated with a laser, and through a series of tests and simulations, the team found that the three-cage diamondoid was able to transform into a pure diamond with very little energy. Subjected to a temperature of around 1,160 °F (627 °C) and pressure many times greater than that in the Earth's atmosphere, the three-cage diamondoid's carbon atoms swiftly snapped into alignment and the hydrogen disappeared from the mix.

All of this takes place in a tiny fraction of a second, and the researchers note the technique is capable of producing little more than tiny specks of diamond. Its real value lies in the insights it can offer in terms of how diamonds can be formed.

The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

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