On the rooftop of a power plant near Zurich, Switzerland, a row of large machines pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Some of that CO2 then goes to a production facility in Chicago, where a startup called Aether is turning it into something new: the world’s first carbon-negative diamonds.
CEO Ryan Sherman started thinking about the concept while reading Drawdown, a book about the most effective solutions to climate change, and talking with Dan Wojno, who became his cofounder. Both had backgrounds in the jewelry industry. “We had a bit of an epiphany,” he says. “You’re carbon-based, I’m carbon-based, we live in a carbon-based world. Carbon in our atmosphere is really bad, but carbon itself inherently is not bad. And a diamond is just crystalline carbon.”
Traditional diamond mining is fraught with problems, from worker exploitation to deforestation and water pollution. While lab-grown diamonds are marketed as a more ethical alternative, they’re typically made from fossil fuels. But Sherman and Wojno realized that they could work with captured carbon instead. After Climeworks captures CO2, Aether purifies it into a form that can be used in a diamond reactor, where it can be turned into a diamond over the course or two or three weeks.