Surrey NanoSystems has achieved the blackest black in the form of Vantablack, a ‘super black' material that can revolutionize space and military applications.
Vantablack was developed using Surrey NanoSystems patented carbon nanotube growing process that requires lower heat than usual, utilized alongside the ‘Space for Growth' program of the UK Technology Strategy Board, the Enersys' ABSL Space Products division, and the National Physical Laboratory. Carbon nanotubes are typically manufactured using high heat that's why direct applications of the material are limited.
Surrey NanoSystems completed a two-year development and testing program for Vantablack in December 2013, successfully transferring the ‘super black' material to structures that were impossible to use before, like pyroelectric sensors and aluminum sheets. The completion of the program also led to Vantablack meeting the standards set by the European Cooperation on Space Standardisation.
"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", according to Ben Jensen, Surrey NanoSystem's Chief Technology Officer.
Carbon nanotubes are grown like a field of grass, with one nanotube about the size of one strand of hair split 10,000 times. In the "field," the nanotubes are spaced apart like blades of grass. When a particle of light hits, it bounces around the material, going between the nanotubes and all over. Light is absorbed and it is converted to heat, never getting out once it gets in.
As a material, carbon nanotubing was developed in the 1990s. It has been a race to make the blackest black since then and every few years someone gets it right. Vantablack is rated to absorb all light except for 0.035 percent. The previously blackest black was capable of absorbing everything except 0.040 percent of light.
More than just creating the blackest black at the moment, Surrey NanoSystems real achievement is in making it possible for Vantablack to be grown at lower temperatures. This means it is now possible to grow carbon nanotubes on lighter materials like aluminum to expand its application.
Surrey NanoSystems manufactures Vantablack in its R&D center in the UK using the NanoGrowth Catalyst systems. Production is being scaled to meet the demands of the company's first customers in the space and defense sectors.