When we think of turning carbon into sparkling diamonds, a handful of volcanic soot or a bag of charcoal briquettes usually come to mind as starter material. Yet, there are unorthodox sources that present untapped potential for diamonds laboratory grown. The key lies in refining usable carbon out of the raw substance.
Take wood ashes, for instance. After trees meet their fiery end in a wood stove or campfire, much of their carbon content gets left behind in the ashy residue. Though it requires extensive filtering and processing, this carbon-rich ash could receive new life as shimmering diamond stones. Talk about a serious glow up! Currently, much ash gets discarded or used for gardening fertilizer at best. But applied materials scientists see carbon gold — if only it can be extracted and refined cost effectively.
Even discarded automotive tires burned for fuel or hauled off to junkyards brim with black carbon leftover from the original rubber manufacturing process. This discarded carbon currently poses major waste management headaches, being too contaminated for many recycling processes. But with the right isolation and purification methods, carbon from tires may one day trade up into brand new diamond bracelets or lab-grown semiconductor material.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, literal tons of animal manure piles up on industrial feedlots and dairy barns, chock-full of carbon from the creatures’ digested meals. Between horse, cow, and chicken droppings alone lies enough readily available carbon to culture heaps of gems. The science geeks have already cracked methane extraction from dung for energy production. Who’s to say jewelry makers won’t have dibs on the waste carbon next for diamond production?
Carbon-bearing raw materials extend even further should we run short on ashes, tires, or poop. Heaps of old cardboard packaging, roots and trimmings discarded from logging sites, crusts of charred bread, pigments from artists’ acrylic paint cans, and residues of spilled Molotov cocktails all contain usable carbon too. It’s just a matter of economically isolating it.
With some purification and careful diamond seeding in the lab, who knows what lower-value waste products we might transform? Recycled carbon is endlessly abundant if we creatively look for it. Forward-thinking companies have already begun lab-growing cultured diamonds using carbon dioxide pulled straight from the air! As carbon capture technology advances, even emissions from heavy industries like concrete manufacturing could get upcycled into gems.
The most amazing source of carbon is in the depths of space itself! Some researchers speculate that the collected carbonaceous asteroids and comets could become virtually limitless diamond reserves if future space mining becomes feasible. Nuclear transformations in space rocks under extreme pressure over centuries have left concentrations of graphite and diamonds waiting to be discovered. Talk about dreaming big!
For now, ashes to ashes still often means wasting usable carbon. Yet where some see only bothersome waste substances, inquisitive minds recognize our next cultured diamond source material practically falling in our laps or awaiting extraction from the skies. We merely need the right technologies, incentives and creative vision to tap into these unorthodox supplies multiplying all around us each day: whether in fire pits or cosmic debris hurtling through the galaxy.
So you would rather not throw away the ashes after another grand bonfire. And consider cursing the neighborhood cats who use your garden as a toilet. Better yet, send your lab partner to rake out that future diamond stash before it gets buried! The potential for carbon reuse is limited mainly by human imagination and innovation in recycling.
But if there are unsung carbon treasures lurking in today’s junk, we could soon make an unprecedented splash in both sustainable materials science and jewelry fashion.