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Let's say that we have the technology to produce and shape synthetic diamonds cheaply (think 3D printing of carbon lattices). Diamond is very hard, but as a result is brittle. Which every-day items would be able to use diamond well, and how would being made of diamond change their properties?

For example:

  • Would diamond replace glass as a material for cups and plates? How much harder to break would they be and would they be as easy to clean?
  • Would diamond pans be any good to cook or bake on? I think Diamonds conduct heat well, but they don't do well with sudden temperature changes; how do they compare to borosilicate glass in this regard?
  • How would diamonds be useful in windows? Would you use diamond coating on glass to reduce break-ability like a style of bulletproof glass?
  • Would diamond be a reasonable material for phone or computer screens? The Ubuntu Edge was going to use a sapphire screen but I have no idea if that would have actually been practical.
  • What types of things would benefit from diamond surfacing? Would diamond edging on knives or saws make them better?
  • Are there things currently made from wood, metal, or ceramic that would be better if they were made of diamond?
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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, you can go out right now and buy a steel saw blade with an industrial diamond coating (intended to cut tile or brick) for a farily reasonable price. $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2022 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ Diamonds are moderately heavy. Synthetic or not, the impact could be big if you throw them hard enough. Especially if you hit the throat or gonads. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 11, 2022 at 3:14
  • $\begingroup$ We do not know the true price of manufactured diamonds, but they keep the price artificially high. It should be a whole lot cheaper if they didn't, although I would suspect it wouldn't be easily applicable to every day objects. If that were the case, they would probably change strategies and sell it more vheaply for a much bigger profit. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    May 11, 2022 at 7:37
  • $\begingroup$ @JoelHarmon The industrial diamonds they do not care about flawless crystals. They do for gemstones. That's why synthetic gemstones are a lot more expensive than industrial diamonds. $\endgroup$ May 12, 2022 at 4:39

3 Answers 3

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Would diamond replace glass as a material for cups and plates? How much harder to break would they be? How would diamonds be useful in windows? Would you use diamond coating on glass to reduce break-ability like a style of bulletproof glass?

Hard means difficult to scratch and abrade. It does not mean difficult to break or strong. You don't use diamonds for applications that require strength. You use diamonds for applications that require hardness, scratch resistance, abrasion resistance, or things like transparency or thermal conductivity.

What types of things would benefit from diamond surfacing? Would diamond edging on knives or saws make them better?

This is already done with industrial tooling and grinding. Diamonds are used to cut non-ferrous materials. They are not used to cut ferrous materials at high speeds, which result in high temperatures where the carbon becomes soluble in iron.

That said, diamond-edged tools are also fragile because if you apply too much force, you rip out the diamond abrasive from its bond to the substrate which is a rather big weakness.

Would diamond be a reasonable material for phone or computer screens? The Ubuntu Edge was going to use a sapphire screen but I have no idea if that would have actually been practical.

No less than how sapphire on watches for scratch resistance. The difficulty in real life is manufacturing it, in other words, cost. So if making diamond is as easy/cheap as making glass you might just replace glass in a lot of applications.

Are there things currently made from wood, metal, or ceramic that would be better if they were made of diamond?

Semiconductors. I can't think of any application that currently uses wood where diamonds would be better. Or metal for that matter. Ceramics, yes because many times ceramics are used in things that are required to be very hard.

Also, diamond heatsinks.

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  • $\begingroup$ I know diamond isn't tough, but neither is glass. Would diamond cups be more drop resistant than their glass counterparts? $\endgroup$
    – Zags
    Jan 7, 2022 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Zags Depends on what you mean by glass. Glass fibers can be quite tough for their strength and stiffness. I know zero about diamond filament. I imagine a dropped diamond glass would shatter either way. But I found it pretty difficult to find strength numbers for diamond. The numbers I found were all over the place but as best as I can tell, glass fiber is listed as 10x stronger and bulk glass was listed as 2x stronger. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 7, 2022 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Zags Drop resistance typically requires strength, not hardness. $\endgroup$
    – user93359
    Jan 7, 2022 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ glass is a lot stronger than diamond just due to it being amorphous "glass" instead of crystalline. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 7, 2022 at 21:23
  • $\begingroup$ +1 nice overview but one remark.. I wonder if your idea about diamond semiconductors would hold. Chips now contain many complex layers of silicon and other substances, involving complex patterns, very specific for the chip design. Diamond is very difficult to "machine" or "etch" in a controled way and it is not easy to contaminate diamond. Components in diamond based electronics would have to be reinvented. I found an abstract that explains the issue sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0040609006009126 $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 7, 2022 at 23:21
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The material you want is not actually diamond, which is hard but brittle. You want ALON (Aluminium oxynitride). ALON is 85% as hard as sapphire and can stop armor piercing bullets without shattering. It's also transparent.

AlON Bricks

Having cheap mass-production of ALON would be an easy replacement for glass, plexiglass, or rigid plastic in items where break-ability, durability, or weight is an issue:

  • Phone screens
  • Bullet-proof glass
  • Glassware
  • Glass tables

Things that change in this world:

  • If you drop a cup, a plate, or your phone, you are more likely to damage your floor or sidewalk the thing your dropped. ALON could also be used to glaze ceramic dishes too (it's technically a ceramic itself)
  • You can't throw a rock through a window
  • Everyone owns a bullet-proof James Bond car. People no longer get killed by things smashing through car windshields. Those emergency hammers for smashing a car window don't work anymore
  • Scenes where a superhero throws a person through a window are much more impressive and likely fatal to the defenestratee

If the thermal shock problem could be solved, ALON could make some serious forays into cookware itself, especially as a replacement for glass cookware. It's thermal conductivity is 12.3 W/(m·K), which is pretty close to the 15 W/(mK) of stainless steel. As is, ALON is not good at rapid temperature changes.

Things made of metal and wood would likely stay that way except in the case of vanity items. There are benefits to things being opaque and pliable. For example, when building a skyscraper, you still want a metal frame because skyscrapers need to bend to deal with wind forces. Other things would be a matter of preference. Some people may prefer the aesthetics of a wood table to an ALON one but likely not everyone. I don't know how many people would want a transparent car if it were an option.

One potential drawback to ALON is that it's transparent to UV light as well. It would probably need anti-UV coating if it were used for exterior windows so you don't get sunburned through them.

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  • $\begingroup$ You can buy off-the shelf UV protective film for windows now, so it's not really speculative. $\endgroup$ May 10, 2022 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison reasonable point $\endgroup$
    – Zags
    May 11, 2022 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ I now imagine rocket-propelled emergency hammers, using those industrially produced synthetic diamonds also available as the striking tip. While that might not work on an ALON car window of the same thickness as now, manufacturers will start making thinner windows when they can get away with it. This will happen up to a point the same specs as current car windows are reached, or where it is cheaper to use more materials than make the window even thinner. $\endgroup$
    – vinzzz001
    May 11, 2022 at 8:34
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    $\begingroup$ The manufacturer told me that it wouldn't work for kitchenware. A hot Alon bowl out of the oven would likely crack if it encountered a drop of cool water. Hopefully, some future variant will overcome this problem. $\endgroup$ May 11, 2022 at 14:34
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In some ways diamond are already cheap. Several billion dollars of diamond are produced per years used as grit, or powders, used for abrasives, a large proportion of which are synthetic. If you look around some of these are available for \$10-\$100 per kilogram. If you are more selective and want a particular size or characteristic a few dollars a gram. A lot are then put into polishing wheels, cutting tools etc.

Perhaps, more interesting are chemical vapor deposition (CVD) processes and plasma assisted deposition processes where thin layers of diamond are deposited other materials like glass or plastics to provide scratch resistance, or for electronics for heat sinks. Cookware, windscreens, eye glasses, have been coated using some of these technologies are are sold commercially.

A little more exotic are growing single crystal diamonds by CVD for power electronic devices. You can grow single crystal wafers a cm x cm x 0.3 mm pretty easily, and people are working on ways to scale that to 100 mm wafers using a variety of techniques. These are still somewhat expensive but are in the range of university researcher doing projects.

Lab grown diamonds for jewelry is also becoming a big business and growing several carets is becoming relatively routine. Several places have factories where there are just rows and rows of machines making diamonds.

Then there is the issue of what is really diamond? The single crystal diamonds grown by CVD and by other methods can be almost perfect materials with no impurities and few defects, to the point that jewelers will look certain characteristics to verify that a diamond is natural.

In the case of coatings it can be more complicated with the coatings consisting of polycrystalline diamond, where there are lots of randomly oriented crystals in the film. Or you can also have diamond like carbon films, where the SP3 bonding between carbon atoms. Then you can have other carbon materials where the bonding is like that of a diamond, but it doesn't have the crystal structure of diamond.

The price for crystalline diamond will continue to drop, but it is a little hard to predict how fast and what "cheap" means since it is application dependent. Like the @DKNguyen and others pointed above there are also other issues to worry about like mechanical properties, brittleness and toughness.

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