If life hands you a lemon, try making lemonade. This old saw could be the motto for Elias Siores, head of the Industrial Research Institute at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. Stuck in traffic one day, he took in a snootful of car exhaust, and he ended up making diamonds.
Siores, together with Carlos A. Destefani, a research engineer at IRIS, reasoned that he could clean up car emissions by superheating them with microwaves and letting them cool down into relatively harmless compounds. It turns out that a wine-bottle-size converter of this sort, fitted onto a vehicle's exhaust system, can yield a 70% reduction in carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons. What's more, he says, "this process is applicable to large-scale emissions like those coming out of power and chemical plants."
But when Siores tested the idea, there was a problem--and a surprising solution. The converter caused cars to belch unsightly black particulates. So the inventor went one innovation further: He attached to the exhaust pipe an electrostatic filter that collects the particulates.
When a car is in the shop, this dust can be collected and mixed with superheated ionized argon or helium. The resulting soup is sprayed onto a glass surface, where it crystallizes into industrial-grade diamonds that can be used as a protective coating for CDs, optical lenses, artificial hip joints, and other devices.