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Process Analysis: Natural Diamond Formation

Paper type: Analysis
Pages: 6 (1443 words)
Categories: Industry, Materials, Production
Downloads: 15
Views: 456


“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without” (Confucius 1). It is a common belief in today’s day and age that it is better to be something of value that is flawed than to be something of no value that has no flaws. Diamonds are formed from pure carbon, which is one of the most abundant elements on planet Earth, and makes up about 18% of the human body. In fact, all life on earth is carbon based.

Even from ancient times diamonds have been sought for their extraordinary hardness (they are the hardest substance known to man) and exceptional beauty.

The creation process of a diamond

In the modern world, when given the choice most people would purchase a two carat natural diamond over a one that was man made of the same price, even though they could get nearly three times the size of stone. After all, if you were the one spending three months’ of your salary on a rock would you want the fake one? Not to mention you darlings reaction when she finds out that her beautiful new diamond ring is not real.

In nature there are many components that are involved in the creation of a diamond. There are very few naturally occurring elements involved in the creation process of a diamond.

First and foremost is carbon, which is the main element present in the structure of any diamond. While most people know carbon is the element that makes up the lead of a common pencil, it is also the main element found within a diamond. Make no mistake, the carbon that is found in a diamond is very different from that found in graphite. In the case of a diamond, the carbon atoms are tetrahedrally bonded, causing the carbon atoms to crystallize into what is known as a diamond lattice, which is a variation of the face centered cubic structure.

A diamond structure

A diamond structure that has very few inclusions or impurities will be what is known as “colorless” and will appear clear. These diamonds with little to no impurities are often used as electrical insulators due to the non-conductivity of the carbon. As stated in the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology, “Although diamond consists of carbon, at least 58 other elements have been found (for example, aluminum, 10 parts per million: hydrogen, 1000 ppm: silicon, 80ppm) as impurities in natural diamond” (446).

On occasion, boron or nitrogen atoms will replace a small amount of the carbon atoms in the lattice structure during creation. These diamonds are referred to as boron-doped diamond (BDD) and nitrogen-doped diamond (NDD). These diamonds that have had some of the carbon atoms replaced by a small amount of boron/nitrogen during the creation process have noticeable differences. The boron impurities cause the diamonds to have a blue to blue gray coloring. On the other hand if the diamond has a nitrogen impurity, it will have a color that ranges from yellow to brown.

The impurities in both the boron and nitrogen doped diamonds make them different in other ways as well, BDD for example is a natural semiconductor, while the NDD on the other hand is used in water treatment due to its electrochemical reactivity. It does however take a little more than chemistry to create a diamond. Diamonds are formed by the prolonged exposure of carbon bearing materials to high pressure and temperature. The formation of natural diamonds starts in upper part of the Earth’s mantle, where the temperatures range from 900o – 1,200 o C.

It is helpful if one puts that into a somewhat fathomable perspective, try thinning of it as being nearly as hot as the surface of the sun. As the carbon atoms get hotter and hotter they begin to bounce around and slam into each other. During this period of rapid movement and heat, each of carbon atoms bond with four other atoms forming the diamond lattice. The more time the carbon atoms are exposed to this extreme heat, the more chances each atom has to bond with others allowing the crystal structure of the diamond to grow larger. The pressure needed to form the diamond is 45-60 kilobars.

These conditions occur in limited areas within the Earth’s mantle, about 125-200 kilometers below the surface. A kilobar is equal to the amount of atmospheric pressure felt at sea level; for every ten meters of depth below sea level you gain one kilobar of pressure. In order to understand this take the collapse depth of a submarine in to consideration, the average U. S. submarine has a crush depth of around 73 kilobars or 730 meters (2400 feet). (The exact collapse depth of U. S. submarines is of course classified, so this is just an educated guess. Since such an immense amount of weight is needed to create this extremely high pressure environment, diamond formation is not found everywhere. Rather, it is thought to be present only in the mantle in regions beneath the continental plates, where the crust of the earth is at its thickest and therefore has the most weight. “Although the pressure release as the diamonds rose to the surface conceivably could have allowed for transformation to graphite, the explosions were believed to be so fast that the diamonds reached cool temperatures at the surface quickly” (www. wisc. edu 5).

The diamonds form in igneous rock that is destined for the earth’s surface. Diamonds form far below the Earth’s surface. In fact, the newly forming diamond is trapped roughly 125-200 kilometers under the ground we walk on. Primarily, diamonds form with in igneous rock known as kimberlite. These rocks get their name from Kimberly, South Africa where they were first found. Though diamonds have been found to form in other types of rock as well, it is a much more prevalent occurrence in the kimberlite. As the pressure of the gasses surrounding the rock builds it is forced to the surface of the earth.

Kimberlite pipes

Kimberlite pipes carry the diamond closer to the surface. “It is probable that kimberlite lavas carrying diamonds erupt at between 10 and 30 km/hour (Eggler, 1989). Within the last few kilometers, the eruption velocity probably increases to several hundred km/hr” (College of Natural Resource 1). This rapid transport to the earth’s surface allows the carbon atoms to cool very quickly, locking them into the diamond lattice structure rather than allowing them to revert into graphite, which is the stable form of carbon.

Unlike other volcanoes, which taper as they near the surface of the earth, kimberlite pipes widen the closer to the surface they get. Kimberlite pipes, although rare are widespread throughout the earth. Most of these pipes are small, only around 12 to 75 acres, and generally occur in clusters of six to forty pipes. Almost all of the known diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes are found in the stable parts of the continents, never in oceanic crust or in younger mountain ranges.

Once the diamonds are free from the earth, they can be cut, polished, and sold. While the natural diamond may be a girl’s best friend, they don’t hold a candle to their man-made counterparts in industrial applications. Even though diamonds that are created in a lab are nearly indistinguishable from ones created in nature they are not nearly as desirable to own. While most people cannot tell the difference between a naturally formed diamond and one created in a lab, the man made diamond is only worth about 30% of natural counterpart.

The machine designed by De Beers

The only way to truly tell the two apart is with a machine designed by De Beers, the world’s largest dealer of natural diamonds. While man made diamonds may not yet be as good as the ones made by nature for use as gemstones yet, they do sever a purpose. Man-made Industrial grade diamonds account for about 94% of industrial diamonds used in U. S. and about 88% of all the industrial diamonds used throughout the world. From building cars to cutting concrete, almost every piece of cutting/drilling machinery uses diamonds in some way.

These diamonds are use on a daily basis without much thought by the workers using the tools as to what it is that makes that grinder wheel or saw blade work so well for so long. It is in this application that man-made diamonds greatly out shine their natural counter parts. ” Synthetic diamond grit and powder are used in diamond grinding wheels, saws, impregnated bits and tools, and as a loose abrasive for polishing. Diamond grinding wheels can be as much as 1 meter in diameter” (Olson 2).

Cite this essay

Process Analysis: Natural Diamond Formation. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/process-analysis-natural-diamond-formation-new-essay

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