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Diamonds cutting environmental impact
by Takashi Hagiwara / (c) 2010, The Yomiuri Shimbun. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Diamonds are known as a girl's best friend due to their splendid sparkle, but they are also held in very high regard by industrialists, who prize their unmatched density, excellent therm al conduction and other properties.
Exploiting these unique properties is the key to a new kind of sem iconductor that researchers hope could be a revolutionary advance in energy-efficient technology.The artificial diamond super semiconductor is being developed by the Diamond Research Laboratory of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan.
Artificial diamonds are most commonly produced by decomposing m ethane gas in a microwave oven at temperatures of about 1,000 degrees Celsius. This process produces minute flakes of carbon, which pile up like accumulated snow to form a thin layer, or lam inate, of diamond.
The AIST team has found a way to accelerate that process and can efficiently produce diamond laminates measuring 2.3 centimeters square and 0.4 millimeter thick─a size that ranks alongside the largest artificial diamonds produced.
While diamond has natural insulating qualities, adding minute amounts of boric acid and some other substances during the methane-decomposition process produces a diamond that also acts as an excellent semiconductor.
The AIST team [in 2009] created a prototype semiconductor element measuring 1.6 centimeters square. If about 10 such elements were combined to form one large element, it would be suitable for use in the power control system of a hybrid vehicle, said Shinichi Shikata, 56, who heads the AIST team.
A hybrid car equipped with such technology would consume about 960 kilowatt hours less per year than a conventional hybrid.
If every hybrid vehicle currently in use worldwide had such a system in place, their collective carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by about 5 million tons over 40 years, he said.
"We'd like to see diamond semiconductors become commonplace some day, since they would be sure to help realize a low-carbon society."