X-Ray Tech Penetrates Rock, Detects Diamonds


In the endless hunt for diamonds in ore, the elusive gems are more frenemy than best friend. A new X-ray technology being developed in Germany promises to locate diamonds deep in rock.

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While the diamond industry already uses X-ray tech, there are limitations. It can only detect diamonds located close to the ore surface — if it finds them at all. Plus, conventional systems require igneous rock to be broken up first, which requires a lot of energy, according to the Fraunhofer Institute.

The Institute’s Development Center for X-ray Technology EZRT, based in Fürth, is working on a more efficient alternative. Their detection system essentially produces two images of the same object using different X-ray spectra. Then a special algorithm they developed filters the data from both images, distinguishing diamond from kimberlite rock, the Institute explained.

Currently the demonstration model the researchers created can detect diamonds in ore that are several hundredths of an inch on up to grains that are nearly 2 inches (50 millimeters) in size. Using this tech, it may be possible to pinpoint larger diamonds deep down, avoiding the need to break up so much other rock first.

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It’s hard for me to be ambivalent about diamonds given the industry’s dark side. That said, perhaps the coolest part of Fraunhofer’s new tech is its admittedly less sexy sounding potential application in electronics recycling.

“The X-ray’s eagle eye could even find the highly coveted rare earths that are concealed in old cellphones, computers, and television sets to utilize them,” their press release (PDF) said. The diamond industry just happened to get down on one knee and ask first.

Photo: A new X-ray technology promises to find diamonds like the ones in this kimberlite rock much faster. Credit: Fraunhofer IIS / EZRT

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