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Diamonds made from the sky: A new age of mining

Photograph: Jeff Moore/Borkowski/PA

In recent years we’ve seen the rise of lab-made diamonds but now, Dale Vince, renewable energy tycoon and founder of green energy provider Ecotricity, is taking synthetic jewels sky high.

Claiming to be the first-of-its-kind, the facility based at Stroud, in Gloucestershire, is introducing the revolutionary new practice of “sky mining” to the world.

The negative consequences of traditional diamond mining – both environmentally and human – is no secret, and, in recent years, has been the inspiration behind a shift towards sustainability. For Vince, a life-long devote to environmentalism, the process of “sky mining” is a necessary progression for the diamond industry. “We see this as 21st century technology, the exact kind of thing we need to be doing to fight the climate and other sustainability crises,” he said while speaking to the BBC; “[it will] enable us to carry on living the way that we’re used to living and want to live.”

Whilst the environmental damage of decade old mining practices cannot be reversed, Vince’s breakthrough means future harm can be drastically reduced. “We no longer need to dig these enormous holes in the ground,” Vince claimed; “We don’t need to do that to get diamonds, we can just make them from the sky.”

As SkyDiamonds works by removing carbon from the air, the process is also a solution which aids atmospheric sustainability. After receiving an OBE from the Queen for services to the environment in 2004, Vince continued to think of ways in which he could improve the environment by not only taking carbon out of the atmosphere at scale, but by keeping it out. He described that as “the entire ingredient list comes from the sky and it’s not just low or zero carbon, it’s actually negative carbon in that respect, because we’re locking up atmospheric carbon into a very permanent form of carbon: the diamond.”

The ‘too good to be true’ nature of Vince’s idea to create diamonds from the air is one that is not lost on him as he described the process to The Guardian as a “magical, evocative idea – it’s modern alchemy.” However, the science behind SkyDiamonds is rather more conceivable.

When talking to Energy Live News, Vince detailed the key points of the sky mining process – known technically as chemical vapour deposition.

The first part of the process focuses on making a “diamond seed”. Carbon dioxide, taken directly from the air, is liquified and then added to hydrogen which has been collected by splitting rainwater with an eco-friendly electrolysis machine. These elements are then combined to make methane which is then added to more hydrogen before being placed in balls of plasma, known as the “diamond mill”. Here, the mill is heated to around 8,000°C which encourages the seed to “grow” as carbon in the gas begins to crystalise. After two weeks, the process is complete and what’s left is a jewel that is both “physically and chemically identical to Earth-mined diamonds.”

So far, the project has proved successful with the jewels becoming fully certified and recognised by the International Gemological Institute.

Although currently in the pre-production stage, Vince and his team have estimated that they will be able to produce 200 carats of ‘green’ diamonds each month and should things go to plan, the facility could scale up to 1,000 carats within a year.

What initially sounds like a whimsical idea to create diamonds from the sky is instead an exciting development in bringing the diamond industry into the 21st century.

Commercial customers will be able to get their hands on the diamonds early next year.

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By Holly Johnson