X6 finds its dark side: high-tech nano paint absorbs over 99 percent of light. Picture: SUPPLIED
X6 finds its dark side: high-tech nano paint absorbs over 99 percent of light. Picture: SUPPLIED

A one-off BMW X6 will become the first standard production car ever painted with a nanostructure paint when it debuts at the Frankfurt motor show next week.

The X6 is a collaboration between BMW and UK-based Surrey NanoSystems and will feature Vantablack VBx2 nanotech paint.

The paint, which changes the visual perception of the shape of an object depending on the angle, makes objects appear to be two-dimensional.

It blots out a lot of design details, which would normally make it totally unsuited to automotive use, but BMW insisted.

“We turned down numerous requests from various automobile manufacturers in the past,” Surrey Nanosystems founder Ben Jensen said.

“It took the BMW X6 and its unique, expressive design for us to entertain the idea.”

The VBx2 version of the Vantablack paint used on the X6 was developed for architectural and scientific use. Sprayed on, it has a 1% total hemispherical reflectance, so it’s technically “super black”, allowing just a small amount of reflection.

Originally developed for space applications, Vantablack absorbs up to 99.965% of light and is ideal for aluminium surfaces and for space telescope parts.

Vantablack stands for Vertically Aligned Nano Tube Array of carbon molecules. Each nanotube is 14 to 50 micrometres long, and about 5,000 times thinner than a human hair. A billion nanotubes can fit into a single square centimetre; almost completely absorbing any light that strikes it and converting it to heat.

“There is a certain inherent contradiction (using it on a car), but that’s exactly what makes this interesting and explains why the BMW X6 is the perfect car for this project,” X6 designer and BMW Designworks creative director Hussein Al Attar said.

“Vantablack VBx2 opens up new possibilities for us as designers. We often prefer to talk about silhouettes and proportions rather than surfaces and lines. The Vantablack VBx2 coating foregrounds these fundamental aspects of automotive design, without any distraction from light and reflections.”

There are no plans to make Vantablack available for production cars, though, with the cost of the Vantablack paint understood to be astronomical.