“Can’t you just pull the carbon out of carbon dioxide and stack it somehow?”
A documentary on global warming sparked a question and a revelation: Yes. Yes, you can. And if you can, why wouldn’t you? If doing such a thing could help make the world a better place, then why not try?
As with most ideas, nothing is quite so simple. There’s no magic wand to split carbon from oxygen and instantly cure environmental woes. But that didn’t stop us from trying. EnviroDiamond’s founder, Daren Swanson, has been a scientific nerd from the start, making rockets as a kid and at the age of 22 developing a bomb calorimeter that Canada’s Department of National Defense still uses to this day decades later.
With his background in explosives and a passion for chemistry, it didn’t take long for Daren to come up with a novel approach to rip CO2 apart. What would happen to the elements once they were parted from each other? The oxygen would be consumed in the explosion, creating a powdered oxide. And the carbon? Diamonds, diamonds, diamonds. Little ones. Really little.
The first attempts were as bootstrap as it gets. Daren convinced an explosives company to let him run detonation tests on their property. Money was tight then. The site was six hours away and we couldn’t afford a hotel room. Necessary materials came in the day before he left, so he and Lisa stayed up most of the night sifting magnesium so he would have just the right particle sizes. He left at 2:30 in the morning, drove straight to the site, did tests all day, and drove home that night.
It was all worth it. While shooting samples at the site there was sonic boom with our explosive each time. When the test results came back from the small amount of material we recovered from an underwater detonation test, there was a faint yet visible response using a method called “Carbon 13 NMR.” The sample appeared to contain nanodiamonds!
Nothing scientific is frequently proven with a single batch of tests, though. We needed to do more and that meant we needed funding, especially since we were filing patent applications globally. We needed people who believed, as we did, that we could capture and process CO2 into nanodiamonds. Finding investors wasn’t the problem. Finding investors who understood what we were doing and knew what to look for in the tests? That was another story.
The very worst setback was one of the first. We had an investor ready to give us the funds we needed for more testing and planned to open a production facility in China. He wanted Daren to do five tests, analyze the material, and provide further funding provided ANY nanodiamond was found in the samples created. We packed Daren off to China to run the tests, then brought him home with half of the material he made. The investor kept the other half.
Because of the raw detonation material’s properties, only very specific tests and equipment can properly detect the presence of nanodiamond. We sent them off for Carbon-13 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy analysis, a test that can identify any diamond bonds in the carbon we created, and we had our irrefutable proof – nanodiamond.
The investor didn’t have access to the correct machine and, instead, depended upon the results generated through a method that can only give an accurate reading if the sample has been put through a very rigorous purification stage first.
At that time we did not know how to coach the lab in China on how to purify the samples for the investor’s alternative test as this was out of the scope of the original plan. We had, of course, written into the contract that the NMR test would be necessary.
However, for whatever the reason, the investor insisted that his analysis had adequately proven that the tests had not created any nanodiamond. He pulled out of the deal and we were back to square one.
Or maybe square two. After all, we had the diamonds and more proof. And we had a fierce will to keep going. When you know you have something amazing, you find inspiration where you can, even if it’s in pure stubborn will.
In the struggles and triumphs since those early days, we have learned a great deal. We know that almost every industry can benefit from nanodiamonds.
The raw byproduct of detonation, which we discovered makes a highly effective non-toxic polish, is an oxide powder containing the nanodiamonds. When we extract the nanodiamonds quantum computing can use them as an alternative to trapping ions. Best of all, and most personal to us, the nanodiamonds can be used to deliver anti-cancer medications and limit negative side effects to the patients. From environmental to high tech to saving lives from cancer.
We’ve come a long way from a single, curious question.
Written by K. Miller of The Corvid Pen