The Diamond Age is emerging

I've been writing for a while about the Energy Economy and the Space Economy as emerging trends. But there is yet another emerging trend--the Diamond Age. Diamonds are fascinating stuff--the hardest substance in the world, with brilliant clarity and appearance, yet made from the cheapest of materials--carbon.

Natural diamonds are scarce, and hence, valuable. Industrial, manmade diamonds have been around for a while, but have usually been small and of poor quality. More recently, a Russian process for creating diamonds has been transported to the U.S. with some success, but the diamonds are yellow in color, limiting their appeal for both jewelry and certain kinds of industrial and optical applications.

Inexpensive diamonds, of sufficient size that they can be formed or machined into usable shapes, is a kind of holy grail for manufacturing and science. In an age of cheap diamond materials, the effects would be far reaching. Industrial processes that involve machining would become much faster and more efficient as diamond tool heads would replace carbide, which breaks and/or wears out fast compared to diamonds. Cheaper manufacturing processes would lower the cost of many items, and make other items available for the first time. Even in our homes, a diamond knife would never wear out and would never lose its edge.

Now Carnegie-Mellon researchers (hat tip to SlashDot) have developed a new process to produce optical quality , large diamonds. The process is producing much larger diamonds than anyone has ever been able to make, suggesting that "the Diamond Age is upon us."

What is the effect on communities? The most plentiful source of carbon on the planet is coal. If your region used to have a booming coal economy, start thinking (as a long term strategy) about the effect of cheap diamonds on your region. How about heavy industry? Would machine shops and equipment manufacturers benefit from improved efficiencies? This is still a few years away, but the ripple effects of cheap diamonds will be extensive.

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