Munich. This September, the Frankfurt Motor Show will provide the backdrop for the world premiere of the third-generation BMW X6 (fuel consumption combined: 10.7–6.1 l/100 km; CO2 emissions combined: 243–159 g/km)*, the car that established the Sports Activity Coupé segment a good ten years ago. At the event, BMW will also present a spectacular one-off vehicle with a Vantablack® VBx2 nanostructure paint finish that highlights the expressive design language and confident, dominant and muscular appearance of the new BMW X6 to perfection. This exclusive show car is the result of a collaboration between BMW and Surrey NanoSystems, the inventors of the Vantablack technology.
The BMW X6 is the first and only vehicle in the world to feature a Vantablack VBx2 paint finish. “We turned down numerous requests from various automobile manufacturers in the past,” explains Ben Jensen, founder and Chief Technical Officer of Surrey NanoSystems. “It took the BMW X6 and its unique, expressive design for us to entertain the idea.” With design highlights like the optional Iconic Glow kidney grille, distinctive twin headlights and striking taillights, the new BMW X6 provides fascinating contrasts to offset the Vantablack VBx2 paint finish, which changes the viewer’s visual perception of an object’s three-dimensional shape.
The human eye perceives Vantablack as two-dimensional.
A surface coated in Vantablack loses its defining features to the human eye, with objects appearing two-dimensional. This can be interpreted by the brain as staring into a hole or even a void, making Vantablack a rather unsuitable vehicle paint finish, as it blots out virtually all the design details and highlights. For this reason, the BMW X6 was coated in the VBx2 variant initially developed for use in architectural and scientific applications. This coating can be sprayed on and has a one-per-cent total hemispherical reflectance (THR), meaning it is still considered “super black” while enabling a small amount of reflection from every angle. Thus, materials painted with it seem to lose their three-dimensional appearance – as demonstrated impressively on the BMW X6.
Vantablack: the “blackest black”, developed for aerospace applications.
The name Vantablack has already become synonymous with an entire range of extremely black coatings and paints such as VBx2. It contains an acronym of the technology enabling this superior black in its first two syllables, which stand for Vertically Aligned Nano Tube Array, a matrix made out of carbon. Each of these carbon nanotubes has a length of 14 to 50 micrometres, with a diameter of 20 nanometres, making it around 5,000 times thinner than a human hair. As a result, around a billion of these vertically aligned carbon nanotubes fit into one square centimetre. Any light striking this surface is almost completely absorbed rather than reflected, and effectively converted into heat.
This technology was initially developed for coating space-borne components. As Vantablack can be applied at temperatures from as low as 430 degrees Celsius, it is suitable for delicate materials such as aluminium, and optical components coated in Vantablack enable observation of faint stars and distant galaxies that stray light from the sun makes difficult to detect. The first generation of Vantablack introduced by Surrey NanoSystems in 2014 absorbed up to 99.965 per cent of light, almost completely eliminating reflectance and stray light.
An interview with Ben Jensen, Vantablack inventor and founder of Surrey NanoSystems.
What was your first thought when you were approached with the idea of providing the BMW X6 with a Vantablack paint finish?
Ben Jensen: To be honest, we received inquiries from most of the big-name automotive manufacturers, almost from the day we launched the original material in 2014, but we’d always said no. This was also due to the fact that we only had a suitable material once we came up with VBx2. When we were approached by BMW, we were still quite hesitant to begin with. But the new X6 looked so incredibly different that it just felt like a really good fit.
Have your expectations been met?
Jensen: I think it went beyond all our expectations. The BMW X6 in Vantablack looks absolutely fantastic. We also realised that it wouldn’t have worked if we’d put on the original material, as the viewer would have lost all sense of three-dimensionality. VBx2 with its one-per-cent reflectance provides just enough of a hint of shape. Add to that the contrast between the matt black surface and details such as the Iconic Glow kidney grille, the headlights and the windows – everything is just set off beautifully.
Hypothetically speaking, could you imagine Vantablack VBx2 becoming a regular paint finish option for people buying a car in the future?