Watching my kids play Minecraft, I was reminded of a children's novel I enjoyed many years ago called Twenty-One Balloons about a clan that discovered a vast deposit of diamond on a small volcanic island.

Suppose that natural diamond was found on earth in such concentration and abundance as coal. Could that enable any technology or have any discernable impact on modern society? (Other than to remove diamond from use as a store of value?)

I'm having a hard time imagining any significant benefits that might accrue from convenient access to large diamond crystals. Although diamond is extremely hard, it is also quite brittle, so I don't think that any large cutting tool could be fashioned from solid diamond that isn't already made (and more durably) from industrial diamond specks bound to metal substrates.

I could imagine diamond being a luxury building material, like other polished stone slabs and blocks. Indeed, the fundamental difficulty of cutting and working it would probably keep its status as the most luxurious architectural material, even if crushed diamond was otherwise being used as a fuel like coal.

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    $\begingroup$ If this deposit was found nowadays? It already sort of has been found. Diamond is incredibly common and artificially creating them is very simple. In addition diamond is not used as a store of value, because it is so plentiful. $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @AngelPray: I wouldn't say that diamonds are incredibly common, but they are common enough that there are stories about the DeBeers cartel dumping them into the sea in order to keep the price up. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ In a non serious aspect, our cultural perspective of diamonds would also change. As such in games like Minecraft diamonds would not be such a precious ore to find. $\endgroup$
    – Anketam
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ Diamond is sort of a really pure form of coal. I wonder how it burns. $\endgroup$
    – Brythan
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ Diamonds burn about as well as coal so they could be used as fuel. I wonder how hard it is to make diamond lenses. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 1:14

1 Answer 1


Cheaper, bigger pieces of diamond would revolutionize engineering, if engineers got to use it, instead of jewelers.

In engineering/tech, diamond has many potential uses that go unexploited, because diamond is too expensive or not available in the size/purity needed. Here are three engineering uses, to start you off:

  1. Higher-power, faster electronics, using diamond semiconductors (instead of silicon): http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/materials/diamondbased-semiconductors-take-a-step-foward

  2. Durable, low friction material for bearings, engine cylinders or piston rings: http://ussbearings.com/bearings_site/research_article/949/

  3. Heat transfer: we often need to move lots of heat in Engineering (engines, power-hungry CPUs, spacecraft) and diamond conducts heat about five times better than copper. Now that synthetic diamond is coming on stream, using diamond for thermal issues is possible:

This is just scratching the surface. Synthetic diamond is also used in machining metals or other hard materials. (Except for steel or other alloys containing carbon; diamond tools 'dissolve' into the piece being cut, an expensive mistake!)

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    $\begingroup$ Are applications #1 and #3 possible using natural diamonds? I'm familiar with synthetic diamond and diamond-like coatings for these characteristics, but it's unclear to me whether natural diamond crystals could be effectively used for these purposes. $\endgroup$
    – feetwet
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ @feetwet, since this is a diamond deposit unlike any known in earthly geology (unless DeBeers is really good at keeping secrets!), we can only speculate on the crystal quality. #1 needs low, low defects, whereas bearings and heat xfer aren't quite so fussy. $\endgroup$
    – Catalyst
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ Silicon semiconductors are shaped in manufacture. Presumably synthetic diamond semiconductors are also shaped during manufacture. Natural diamonds would be unlikely to have the exact structure that they need. High quality is possible, but not with the desired pathways. $\endgroup$
    – Brythan
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Brythan, diamond has a cubic crystal structure and it cleaves easily. If there are nice big (inch or larger) diamonds for cheap, those can be cleaved into flat pieces, especially thin flat pieces, pretty much what's needed for IC fabrication. If the crystals are even bigger, so much the better! $\endgroup$
    – Catalyst
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ "This is just scratching the surface." Heh – I see what you did there ;) $\endgroup$
    – feetwet
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 1:26

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