CVDVale: A world leader in diamond production during the 17th and 18th centuries, for well over a century Brazil has languished far behind the mines of Africa.
Although a resurgence of natural diamond mining is unlikely, innovative production of synthetic diamonds for use in the dental health, oil, mining and automotive industries could now bring about a modest renaissance.
20 years after researchers at Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) first began research into the development of synthetic diamonds for use in satellites, a research-led Brazilian spinoff named Clorovale Diamantes (CVDVale) has achieved breakthroughs in two areas.
CVD: Crystals formed through Chemical Vapor Deposition generate high-strength synthetic diamonds with the same physical and chemical properties as their natural counterparts.
DLC: Diamond Like Carbon forms a film or coating of non-crystalline material much like CVD. However, this can be applied at lower temperatures to cover steel, brass or glass.
From 2009 CVDVale focused initially on dental applications with the creation of CVDentus, a business based in São José dos Campos, São Paulo state. This makes diamond tipped drill-bits and ultrasound equipment for periodontal treatment.
Like other innovations produced later by CVDVale, the origins of CVDentus date from the early 1990s, when the firm’s four founders – Vladimir Trava-Airoldi, Evaldo Corat, Luiz Gilberto Barreta and Luis Francisco Bonetti – began working to ensure that INPE, where they were employed as researchers, and mastered the technology of producing synthetic diamonds for use in satellites.
At that time, Trava-Airoldi had just returned to INPE after completing postdoctoral research in molecular physics at NASA. “I went there precisely to find out how they were able to convert the knowledge derived from space research into innovations with a broad social impact,” he says.
Their startup was supported by FAPESP, with the aim of leveraging the unique properties of CVD diamonds. The technology developed at INPE by the researchers increased the hardness of DLC, increased the speed at which CVD diamonds are synthesized, and allowed both substances to be bonded onto substrate materials for industrial use. The company was also granted financing in 2006 from an Innovation Subvention project approved by Finep, the Studies and Project Finance Agency of the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Dental applications were the fruit of FAPESP’s support via PIPE, which helped found CVDVale with the initial aim of developing diamond tips for ultrasonic drills. It took five years for CVDVale to commercialize its first dental drill tip. Today the firm makes ultrasonic drills, tens of models of drill tips, and two burr shanks, one for alveolar bone and the other for teeth. These tips are attached to an ultrasound device and vibrate rather than rotate, which results in less aggressive and far less noisy treatment.
The results in dentistry encouraged the firm to develop another ultrasonic device for orthopaedic surgery, in which the surfaces to be cut are much larger. The project, which is also supported by PIPE, is scheduled for completion in January 2018 and has already led to the launch of a new shank for dental surgery.
Now, CVDVale is pushing ahead with industrial applications of its technology on a much larger scale than the dentist’s office. Its latest product is a drill bit for oil prospecting and the protective coating of steel products or parts subject to chemical corrosion and wear through attrition.
Brazil’s national oil company Petrobras has ordered two CVD drill bits for testing on the seafloor to advance its offshore finds. CVDVale’s technology is not yet being used to prospect in the ultra-deep the pre-salt layer more than 3,000m below the surface of the ocean. The drill bit is some 50 cm long and the diamond-coated segment is almost 20 cm long. The diameter ranges from 10 cm to 40 cm.
DLC already has applications preventing corrosion in gears and industrial disks, while it cam also act as a solid lubricant. An additional usage of DLC coatings is to line the inside of pipelines carrying liquids that may corrode the surrounding steel.
Since its inception, CVDVale has never ceased innovating, assisted by seven stages of PIPE and close collaboration with INPE. “Both sides benefit,” Trava-Airoldi says. “The firm advances thanks to the knowledge created at INPE, especially with the three Thematic Projects supported by FAPESP. And INPE’s research benefits from the knowledge created at CVDVale.”
The collaboration has already led to 12 patents and more than 250 scientific articles published in international journals, not to mention the world’s first courses in ultrasonic dentistry, delivered at the University of São Paulo (USP).
You can read a detailed article by Brazilian journalist Marcos de Oliveira by clicking here
Details of FAPESP financial support for CVD technology:
Diamond-like carbon (DLC) films containing nanoparticles of crystalline diamond, TiO2 and AG in their structure for applications to anti-corrosive and bactericidal surfaces for space and industry (2015-2018)