TEP Story Archives: The Ideal Artificial Diamonds are Large and Single-Crystal

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Mr. Naoji Fujimori
President of EDP Corporation/TEP Member

Artificial diamonds supporting contemporary society

Diamonds are the king of jewels. Large ones can cost more than a billion yen, and their shine has captivated people all over the world through all ages and civilizations. However, most of the global trade in diamonds is of artificial diamonds for industrial use, rather than jewels. Now artificial diamonds account for more than 90% of the diamond trade around the world, which equals about 200 tons.

In the world of science, diamonds are known as the ultimate substance. This is because of their superior properties, such as being the hardest of all substances and boasting excellent thermal conductivity. Diamonds are used as cutters to cut ceramics and super-alloys, as polishers to make the acrylic tanks of aquariums as clear as glass, and even as windows in a satellite for exploring Venus.

EDP Corporation boasts unique and revolutionary technology that will further expand the use of artificial diamonds; the manufacturing of large single-crystal diamonds. Up until now, small particulate single-crystal diamonds have been used for industrial polishing, or these small diamonds have been used when reinforced with metal. Single-crystal diamonds several millimeters in thickness have also been used as a tool for the high-precision cutting of metals, but other applications were limited due to the lack of large artificial diamonds.

In an unprecedented move, EDP Corporation has made it practical to create large single-crystal diamonds. They are now gaining attention as a means for finally utilizing the outstanding properties of diamonds.

An industry heavyweight that founded his company at 60 years of age

The founder and president of EDP Corporation, Mr. Naoji Fujimori, has been researching artificial diamonds for more than 30 years. In his previous job, he experienced everything from R&D to management at a major materials manufacturer. However, feeling inspired as an engineer, he left the company in 2003 and became the director of the "Diamond Research Center" of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). He also worked as the chair of the "Japan New Diamond Forum," which is made up of research institutes and corporations relating to diamonds. Mr. Fujimori is certainly a heavyweight in the world of diamonds.

Broadly speaking, there are two methods for manufacturing artificial diamonds.
Currently, the "high-pressure synthesis method" is the most common. This method recreates the super high temperature and high-pressure environment (1500°C/50K atm) found at the center of the earth, which is where natural diamonds are born, to produce diamonds through the synthesis of carbon. However, gigantic equipment is required to artificially create such an environment. A building as large as three stories is needed to produce a single-crystal diamond, and despite the amount of capital required for commercialization, the largest single-crystals that can be created are several millimeters in size.

The new production method used by EDP Corporation is "chemical vapor deposition." This method activates hydrogen and methane gas with plasma discharge to grow diamond seed crystals. The technology for separating this growth from the seed crystal is an efficient production method that was developed at the AIST Diamond Research Center when it was led by Mr. Fujimori. In theory, this method can duplicate diamonds with the same shape as the seed diamond ad infinitum. The equipment required for production is only as large as a cabinet. This means that production costs can be greatly reduced compared to the conventional method.

Mr. Fujimori succeeded in fabricating large single-crystal diamonds using chemical vapor deposition at AIST and is the leading authority on chemical vapor deposition research. In 2009, when he was 60 years of age, he founded EDP Corporation in order to commercialize this technology. "I wanted to bring this leading technology to the world as soon as possible," says Mr. Fujimori. This venture project launched by a heavyweight in the world of diamonds caught the attention of the industry.

Trying to create diamond semiconductors

"Some things can only be achieved with large single-crystal diamonds," states Mr. Fujimori. One of these things is diamond semiconductors, which have been called the "ideal semiconductor" for many years. Silicon semiconductors are currently used in all kinds of electronic devices, such as smartphones, computers, and home appliances. If it is possible to make semiconductors with diamonds, semiconductor durability will increase dramatically and basic performance such as operation speed will become dozens to hundreds of times faster.

Power converters made with diamond semiconductors are already used in some products, such as electric cars and air conditioners. Their increased efficiency and lightweight design are also expected to have a major impact on CO2 reductions.

However, there are various hurdles that need to be overcome. Production of semiconductor elements requires large circular wafers (boards) of 5 cm or more that are thin and flat at the atomic level. Since diamonds are so hard, it is extremely difficult to "shave" them so thin.

The technology of EDP Corporation enables large diamonds to be used as a seed, from which a thin growth surface can be "peeled" off. In other words, mass production of large, thin, and flat diamonds of a uniform shape will become possible. "There are still many challenges, but the practical application of wafers for a diamond semiconductor industry is no longer just a dream," says Mr. Fujimori, with conviction.

Creating a new global market

Overseas eyes are also fixed on Mr. Fujimori's technology. When EDP Corporation was first founded, its website was only in Japanese. However, when a photo of large single-crystal diamonds was uploaded to the website, the company started receiving a series of inquiries from manufacturers and researchers over the world, such as "What kind of technology is this?" and "I would like a sample." The business rapidly expanded thanks to those photos. By 2011, the company's products were being exported to more than five countries and overseas sales accounted for 20% of the total.

The greatest challenge for future business expansion is securing funding. Venture capital firms in Japan are reluctant to invest in cutting-edge technology at the initial stage. However, a venture manufacturing company that produces raw materials requires a large initial investment to cover equipment and research environment costs, and must look at recovering those costs in the long term. When Mr. Fujimori first founded his company, he was troubled by venture capital firms because of their demand for short-term returns.

Three angel members of TX Entrepreneur Partners (TEP) gathered together to make a joint investment in EDP Corporation at the time of its founding. One of those three, Mr. Kakutaro Kitashiro, senior advisor of IBM Japan, also participates in the management of the company as a director. The wide-ranging experience that Mr. Kitashiro has gained at various companies at the center of the Japanese economy has provided him with the ability to develop this small company. "I empathize with the philosophy of TEP, which is to develop the market together with venture companies," says Mr. Fujimori.

"I founded a company for the purpose of creating a new global market for diamonds," explains Mr. Fujimori. EDP Corporation currently focuses on expansion in the Indian and Chinese markets, where many factories of the world's electrical machinery manufacturers are located, and still Mr. Fujimori dreams of the day when the world's electric vehicles will run on diamonds.

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