FARNBOROUGH: Surrey nanotech specialist claims world record for blackest coating

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How black is black? Blacker than it used to be and very nearly as black as it can get, according to the UK materials scientists behind a carbon nanotube coating they claim absorbs a world record 99.96% of incident radiation.

Launched at Farnborough, Surrey NanoSystems’ “Vantablack” promises a revolutionary step-change in performance for optical sensors because it can be applied at low temperatures, making it suitable for light-weight, temperature-sensitive structures such as aluminium and sensitive optical electronics.

Where other light-absorbing nanocoatings have to be grown at 700°-800°C, Vantablack can be applied at 400°.

Chief technology officer Ben Jensen says Vantablack will supercharge optical instruments by virtually eliminating stray light. That means telescopes in space or on the ground will be able to see fainter stars, and “electro-optical imaging and target-acquisition systems will achieve new levels of range and sensitivity performance”.

As for stealth applications, Jensen says these are “very interesting” – but something he can’t discuss.

But when internal surfaces need to resist heat and vibration, it may be the ideal solution, claims Jensen. And, he says: “it has virtually undetectable levels of outgassing and particle fallout, thus eliminating a key source of contamination in sensitive imaging systems.”

First applications will be military, but there is “tremendous interest” from spacecraft designers. For now, Surrey NanoSystems is scaling up its own production and working on a deal with a US partner to ease use in ITAR-restricted applications.

Surrey NanoSystems worked with the UK Technology Strategy Board, the National Physical Laboratory and Enersys’ ABSL Space Products division. The company was created as a spinoff from the University of Surrey.