National Physical Laboratory

British breakthrough in world's darkest material

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and Enersys' ABSL Space Products division have worked alongside Surrey NanoSystems to help them develop a new 'super black' material, Vantablack®.

Black rectangle

Surrey NanoSystems' Vantablack® is revolutionary in its ability to be applied to light-weight, temperature-sensitive structures such as aluminium whilst absorbing 99.96% of incident radiation, believed to be the highest-ever recorded.

"Vantablack is a major breakthrough by UK industry in the application of nanotechnology to optical instrumentation. For example, it reduces stray-light, improving the ability of sensitive telescopes to see the faintest stars, and allows the use of smaller, lighter sources in space-borne black body calibration systems. Its ultra-low reflectance improves the sensitivity of terrestrial, space and air-borne instrumentation," said Ben Jensen, Chief Technology Officer, Surrey NanoSystems.

Vantablack is the result of applying Surrey NanoSystems' patented low-temperature carbon nanotube growth process to the UK Technology Strategy Board's 'Space for Growth' programme, working alongside the National Physical Laboratory and Enersys' ABSL Space Products division. The manufacture of 'super-black' carbon nanotube-based materials has traditionally required high temperatures (750 ºC), preventing their direct application to sensitive electronics or materials with relatively low melting points such as aluminium. This, along with poor adhesion, prevented their application to critical space and air-borne instrumentation.

Vantablack has the highest thermal conductivity and lowest mass-volume of any material that can be used in high-emissivity applications. It has virtually undetectable levels of outgassing and particle fallout, thus eliminating a key source of contamination in sensitive imaging systems. It withstands launch shock, staging and long-term vibration, and is suitable for coating internal components, such as apertures, baffles, cold shields and Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) type optical sensors.

NPL has over ten years' experience of working on Carbon NanoTube black coatings. NPL's main aim was to identify a new improved black coating to coat pyroelectric detectors which are being used as the primary standards for the NPL relative spectral responsivity scale in the UV and infrared regions.

In 2012, NPL approached Surrey NanoSystems and invited them to collaborate on the growth of VANTA coatings on aluminium substrates so they can be used for space applications. A consortium was formed which included Enersys' ABSL Space Products division. The consortium received Technology Strategy Board (TSB) funding for a project which included: the growth of VANTA coatings on aluminium substrates and the space-qualification the aluminium-coated VANTA samples. The result of this project were published in in a peer-reviewed journal Optics Express.

Theocharous et al. The partial space qualification of a vertically aligned carbon nanotube coating on aluminium substrates for EO, Optics Express, 22, 6, pp 7290-7207 (2014).

Find out more about Surrey NanoSystems

Find out more about Enersys' ABSL Space Products

Read The partial space qualification of a vertically aligned carbon nanotube coating on aluminium substrates for EO in Optics Express

Find out more about NPL's Optical Radiation & Photonics research

Contact: Theo Theocharous

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Last Updated: 9 Oct 2014
Created: 21 Jul 2014

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