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21 june 2019

(scientificrussia.ru) – At the extended meeting of the Bureau of the Inter-Academy Council of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (NASB), the scientists of the Union State took the decision to develop a new Union programme for mining and processing of rough diamonds. This is not about the gems we used to see in rings and necklaces but about the polycrystalline diamonds used in the mining and processing industry. As academician Pyotr Vityaz, Chief of the Presidium Staff of the NASB, told, the world’s largest Popigai impact polycrystalline diamond deposit discovered back in the 1970s was declassified, with the reserves of 10 trillion carats (about 2 mn tons). By now, 162 bn carats reserves have been registered, which is 35 times more than those of all the inferred industrial kimberlite diamond reserves.

Nikolai Pokhilenko, Vice-Chairman of the Siberian Branch (SB) of the RAS, told about the way the unique deposit was formed. 37 mn years ago, 6-km long asteroid crashed into the ground at the speed of 30 km per second. The explosion lasted for about 1.5 sec, the pressure at the point of impact reached 1.4 atmospheres and the temperature exceeded 4,000оС. The impact resulted in the formation of a crater, 100 km in diameter, ‘seeded’ with polycrystalline diamonds. The average size of a Popigai stone is 1.5 mm, but there are samples up to several centimeters in size - some samples, even up to a matchbox size. They are not as beautiful as the usual rough diamonds but they are stronger and withstand the pressure of 3.5 atm as compared to standard 1.7 atmospheres. Such ‘strength’ was not achieved even in especially hard synthetic stones. The service life of boring bits made with the use of such diamonds will be 2-3 times longer than that of the usual ones, which will result in a several-fold decrease in oil-and gas production costs.

Academician Pokhilenko told that in Novosibirsk, there was a prominent oil producer. And he told that if our drills would be at least 20% more effective than the standard ones, his company would be ready to buy them at a 10 times higher price.

The economists’ estimates showed that in case of success, in the first years we would be able to supply about 100 mn carats to the global market, and in ten years, the supplies could grow up to 750 mn carats.

However, to start the commercial production of the new abrasive material, it is necessary to carry out rather extensive R&D and experimental design work, and also find first investors and customers. This, in its turn, requires an annual production of at least 10,000 carats, which equals to 2 kg. The researchers of the NASB in co-operation with their colleagues from the SB of RAS have already started the elaboration of the new Union programme they expect to submit this year to be peer-reviewed.