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“Now, a diamond is a thing we cannot do without” says Eduard Gorodetsky, CEO, General Synthetic Research

19 december 2022

eduard_gorodetski_xx.pngThe ‘General Synthetic Research’ R&D Centre is a Russian high-tech innovative company manufacturing superhard materials for the electronics, mining, medical and jewellery industries.

The company was founded in 2019 by a group of engineers and is located on the area of the Sestroretsk Tool Plant - Voskov Technopark. Eduard Gorodetsky, CEO of the Research Centre, told Rough&Polished about the products the company manufactures, about the technologies it uses in diamond synthesis, including the exclusive lab-grown crystal production technology.

Tell us about your company, how long ago was it established?

The company exists not for a long time, it was set up at the end of 2019. The following year, we installed the first press and almost immediately gave results in the diamond synthesis. When I entered this business that seems to be large-scale but, in fact, is very narrow I got acquainted with almost all the players in the market and we were a strong team of like-minded people and visited a large number of technical exhibitions together. At one of the exhibitions, we got acquainted with our investor, we showed him our project and held several meetings. He believed in our potential and helped establish our company and implement our project. Then, the global pandemic started. Practically, all the companies’ activities were suspended, but not the work on our project. We didn’t have time to get discouraged, we had to move forward. After all, we were captured by this idea very much, it was more important to us than coronavirus. This period turned out to be good for starting our project, almost every factory’s activity was suspended and everybody were discouraged and, on the contrary, this encouraged us. A lot of companies engaged in the production of components used in the diamond synthesis worked to order. But since the business of most companies was suspended, we had the opportunity to buy these components. Having almost no press equipment, we bought everything we needed and started experimenting. A HPHT diamond grows inside an 88x88 mm cube. We make all the components inside it on our own and using the materials that we also prepare by ourselves. We have several types of powders for mixing them in different proportions. Powders are brought to different consistencies according to fraction and temperature regimes. Using these powders, we press the elements of the cube parts. In a word, by the time the first press was delivered, we had already assembled our own cube. We put it in the press and almost during the first attempt to carry out synthesis we got an encouraging result.

Did you carry out these experiments as the spirit moved you, or did you use some special literature?

Mathematical programmes helped us a lot, we modelled our entire component base with the right pressure and the right temperature using these models. We looked at models to see how this powder would behave, because high-pressure physical factors start working in the process, depending on the proportions of a mix, as well as on the fraction, on the density of pressing.

Recently, the media have reported that your company synthesized the largest and purest diamond in the world weighing over 16 carats. But that’s not your core business, is it?

Exactly so. We focus on the production of industrial diamonds, including those for medical equipment, for example, for the production of gamma knives.

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Do you mean the knives for laser operations?

That’s right. Today, only one company in the world produces gamma knives, but, unfortunately, the gamma knives are very large when they are based on diamond, it takes a long time to make them. To date, no more than one hundred pieces of equipment have been produced worldwide. We are able to make this equipment smaller and more precise. With a set of diamond lenses, we can focus an X-ray beam in one spot. We know how to make diamond lenses, we also carried out the calculations required, but there are difficulties in polishing. The lenses have a huge number of irregularities, and so far, we cannot properly polish them so that the incoming beam does not scatter. Therefore, our researchers are now conducting a number of research works to be able to solve this problem. In addition, we are working on setting up the production of substrates for heat removal, the so-called MEMS (microelectromechanical systems), that allow us to remove heat, for example, from a chip or from any device. Now, basically all materials, processors, chips are developed on the basis of silicon. But silicon has a big limitation because it can either fail or its performance can drop very much at temperatures above 140 degrees Celsius. In this regard, a huge number of additional coolers are used to remove the heat. Diamonds are a unique option as they remove the heat very well, and if the same sensor is built using a diamond, you won’t have to build a huge number of these coolers, which is very important for the aerospace industry and for precision electronics. Also, there are a lot of possibilities for us - since we grow crystals, we can slightly change the structure of a crystal and dope it, for example, with components such as boron, which allows to conduct current through the plates. Since diamond is the hardest mineral on earth and a very good heat conductor, when everything it made correctly so that it passes a large amount of current, then the semiconductor niche will be occupied by diamonds. Diamond is a rather expensive material, so it is not widely used but only for scientific purposes, or in super-precise devices. In addition to this (this just refers to the diamond single crystals), we also have ideas for diamond polycrystals that are connected with drilling tools and construction ones. Now, diamond is a thing we cannot do without. Construction, aeronautical and mechanical engineering cannot do without diamond tools. Almost in every house, there are tiles on the floor or on the walls that are cut with a diamond-coated tool. Even nail files are coated with a diamond powder.

At present, this niche belongs entirely to China. Unfortunately, no one is engaged in this sector in Russia. In the days of the Soviet Union, we had a huge number of enterprises that were engaged in growing the polycrystalline diamonds for tools, but, unfortunately, no one is in this sector now.

China has made great progress, so you have to catch up with it now?

From the point of view of a polycrystal growing technology and the tool manufacture, the Chinese outperformed all countries, even the USA. There are a number of companies in the United States, for example US Synthetic. Their drilling bits are among the best ones in the world. Their bit cutters are very durable, but very expensive. Therefore, inexpensive Chinese cutters are sold all over the world. The former Sestroretsk Tool Plant where we are located now, various kinds of drills, diamond wheels with diamond powder were made in the Soviet days.

We conducted a small study in the field of industrial diamonds, namely, regarding the polycrystals. Russia is a leader in mining the natural resources, and synthetic diamonds are required to pass through various rocks. Every year, the Russian Federation officially consumes more than half a million cutters imported from China. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a single company manufacturing such cutters, and we are now working on developing their production to replace imports by domestically produced cutters.

And what will be the value-for-money ratio compared to the Chinese goods? Will these tools be more reliable?

China has a huge supply of cutters, ranging in quality from good to very low. All cutters are certified and when soft rock does not require heavy-duty super-hard cutters, cheap cutters will do. If the rocks are difficult ones requiring special heavy-duty cutters, you should not be close-fisted. Work to replace a drill bit is much more expensive than a cutter itself. We determined which cutters are required, made estimations and, in principle, we understand that the price of our cutters will be at the level of the Chinese ones, but their quality will be at the level of the American ones.

We also have a number of joint projects with the Russian leading research institutes in electronics, so we make calculations and develop various devices based on the use of diamonds. But due to the fact that we do not yet have an opportunity to provide a large amount of material - the same quality substrates - we produce single-pieces. As soon as we see that we are able to produce, for example, 1,000 plates per month, we will understand that we can easily provide some device for aerospace instrumentation using our products. I mentioned the aerospace instrumentation because diamonds are not sensitive to radiation at all, they are rather resistant to radiation.

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You told about things associated with industrial diamonds. And what about the gem-quality diamonds?

This niche is now most in demand, and we also entered the jewellery industry. That is why the Melvis jewellery company was set up, it is located in Moscow, on Smolnaya Street in the Diamond World. There are a large number of cutting tables there, and the cutters work with the rough diamonds we produce in Sestroretsk. All the polished stones are sold here. At present, we sell on the domestic market, but there are also plans to enter the international market, which is increasingly focused on lab-grown diamonds.

How important is the jewellery segment in the diversified activities of the company?

In our plans, eighty percent of all our products will be for industrial purposes, including substrates, lenses, and so on, and twenty percent will be used for jewellery.

After we synthesize our crystals, we check them for tension, for dislocation density; if it is quite high, we usually do not use such crystals for the production of plates and lenses. They are cut and polished to be used in the jewellery industry. It is impossible to determine the dislocation visually, it can only be measured using special instruments. We have already made quite serious experiments in growing very large crystals, and with the help of our working cell, we can predict the growth of a diamond. We can plan the number of stones for one synthesis procedure, their size, shape and colour. As for clarity, we are currently working on this issue, because the ‘corridor’ for the correct diamond growth inside our cube is quite narrow, and we cannot go beyond it. Depending on the technology used, the operating temperature in our synthesis is from 1,200 to 1,500 degrees Celsius, and the allowable temperature fluctuations are only 10-15 degrees Celsius. Therefore, if we do not satisfy these parameters, small inclusions appear in the crystal. We have just shifted to growing very large diamonds to obtain the largest possible plates, and we try to grow ‘flat’ crystals that are wide and not high. We measured the rough diamond from which we made the ‘Champion’ polished diamond and realized that it had several dislocations, so we decided not to use it for plates, although it fit perfectly because it was of the correct shape, but it was decided to make a polished diamond. The cutting technologists predicted the model and the cutters and polishers made a 16.04 carat ‘cushion’ diamond of ideal D colour and VS1 clarity.

So, the largest HPHT lab-grown polished diamond of the highest clarity in the world you obtained almost by accident, didn’t you?

Not exactly. We grow very large-size crystals and use them to make plates. But since this crystal was very beautiful, even a rough diamond was rather transparent, but there were just dislocations in it that did not allow this stone to be fully used for plates. From such ‘unsuitable’ stones, we usually make polished diamonds. If a crystal grows correctly, then its lattice is layered on top of each other. If there are any distortions in the crystal lattice, the faces of a crystal begin to grow a little incorrectly - this is not seen by eye - but the process of lattice distortion occurs, and this is not a very good feature for electronics. Therefore, we decided not to use this stone for the manufacture of plates but to make a polished diamond out of it, taking into account that it was visually perfect.

Believe me, our technologists make titanic efforts to grow a diamond for use in optics or electronics.

Are you going to sell your technology?

As for our exclusive lab-grown crystal production technology, we will not sell or share it. We plan to keep on developing and improving our technology in Russia. At the same time, we do not rule out scaling up the technology at additional production facilities. In Sestroretsk, we have already created a research Centre at our enterprise. Our company’s full name is the Research-and-Development Centre ‘General Synthetic Research’. We plan to develop and improve our technology at the Centre, bring it to perfection and implement it at our production sites.

Do you have enough production capacity for developing and expanding your production facilities? You have a cutting and polishing diamond production site in Moscow. And what about Sestroretsk?

In Sestroretsk, it is possible to install 16 hydraulic press machines, we have ten of them now. We will use these machines to keep on developing our technologies, including those for the production of single crystals and polycrystals. As for scaling up our production, we have a large site where preparatory work is underway to install the press equipment. By the end of the year, we expect to finalize our research related to the diamond synthesis, and next year, we will begin to introduce the technology at our large production site. At the moment, I will only say that this is a former machine-building plant not far from Moscow. Now, we are restoring and reconstructing it, and we will launch it soon. Recently, our country was self-sufficient. During the Soviet days, our parents built many plants and factories around which cities were built. We believe that now it is not too late to restore the factories destroyed since that time, we need to have our own production not to depend on anyone. This ensures the economic security of our country.

What are your future plans?

Our plans are to stay strong in the pursuit of our goals. After all, we have everything for this, including the most powerful Chinese hydraulic equipment in the world - we are now modifying it on our own and re-equipping it with our control systems and our software. But we strive for making our own equipment to become completely independent and make everything in Russia.

Galina Semyonova for Rough&Polished