Borrowing From Solar and Chip Tech to Make Diamonds Faster and Cheaper – by John Markoff (New York Times – November 11, 2015)

http://www.nytimes.com/

Just a decade ago, Silicon Valley had high hopes of becoming a vibrant manufacturing center, making solar panels. But price competition from abroad, particularly China, quickly dashed those dreams.

And so the founders of Nanosolar, one of the largest start-ups, began exploring ways to build to apply their expertise to new technologies.

On Wednesday, a group of engineers and scientists, led by a founder of Nanosolar, R. Martin Roscheisen, will announce that it has developed an advanced approach to making diamonds, using technology derived in part from making silicon chips and solar cells.

The first synthetic diamond processes appeared in the early 1950s, and the commercialization of manufacturing diamonds has grown to the point that at least 10 companies now make either commercial or industrial diamonds.

But the Diamond Foundry claims to have made proprietary breakthroughs that will make it possible to manufacture high quality diamonds more quickly and cost effectively than existing technologies.

Its new approach makes it possible to “culture” diamonds at a cost that is on par with the best naturally occurring gems, according to the company’s founders.

The Diamond Foundry, based in San Carlos, Calif., is not the first company to try to use the technique, known as chemical vapor deposition, to grow diamonds by depositing layers of carbon atoms in an intense plasma field.

According to Mr. Roscheisen, the new process will make it possible to manufacture large quantities of so-called IIa diamond, a pure white material that represents 1 to 2 percent of all natural diamonds. Other manufacturers currently also make IIa-quality gems, but the Diamond Foundry team says it has developed a process that will be more effective at “growing” diamond material atomic layer by layer more quickly.

Diamonds are one of the many forms that carbon may take. The Diamond Foundry researchers spent years developing a new manufacturing technique based on a plasma source with a new “shape” that is 10 times as powerful as what has previously been used by the manufacturers of synthetic diamonds, Mr. Roscheisen said.

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