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Scaling up diamond growth for high-tech applications

By Mary Page Bailey |

A team of scientists in Kentucky are working to harness the unique material properties of diamonds — hardness, thermal conductivity, electrical resistivity and more — for advanced industrial applications, including biosensors and high-frequency and high-power devices. Kentucky Advanced Materials Manufacturing Co. (Louisville; www.kyammc.com), in collaboration with the University of Louisville (www.louisville.edu), operates a pilot plant where diamonds are grown from “seeds” in microwave-plasma reactors. The plant’s three reactor lines have been producing diamonds for jewelry applications for over four months, but the team is currently working on scaling up production for industrial applications. “This work involves growing large single crystals of diamonds using seeds, expanding them and slicing them into wafers. If you really want to industrialize diamonds, you need a large single-crystal wafer,” explains Mahendra Sunkara, professor of chemical engineering and director of the University of Louisville’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research (www.conncenter.org).

The team has created seeds up to 11 × 11 mm in size, but there is still work to be done to commercialize these diamonds for the industrial space. “We are looking at ways of joining seeds together or growing larger areas on different substrates. We are also producing first-generation seeds, and transforming them into second generation seeds and removing defects,” adds Sunkara. Ensuring polished surfaces that are free of defects is crucial, because any defects in the seed will be amplified when grown into a larger-scale stone.

The team is also working to optimize diamonds’ integration with other materials. “If you can integrate diamonds with gallium nitride, this can enable high-voltage, high-frequency devices, including power devices that connect solar farms or wind farms into the grid, or next-generation telecommunications systems. Those are some of the commercial target areas we are looking at,” says Sunkara. In the coming years, the pilot plant will pivot to these new applications by shifting to larger seeds and using different recipes for producing diamond materials tailor-made for high-tech devices.

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