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Carbon Nanotube-Based Black Coatings



John H. Lehman, Christopher S. Yung, Nathan A. Tomlin, Davis R. Conklin, Michelle S. Stephens


It has been shown that coatings comprised of carbon nanotubes are very black; that is, characterized by low reflectance over a broad wavelength range from the visible to far infrared. Arguably there is no other material that is comparable. This is attributable to the intrinsic properties of graphene as well as the morphology (density, thickness, disorder, tube size) of the coating. The need for black coatings is persistent for a variety of applications such as baffles and traps for space instruments. Because of the thermal properties, nanotube coatings are also well suited for thermal detectors, blackbodies and other applications where light is trapped and converted to heat. We briefly describe a history of other coatings such as nickel phosphorous, gold black and carbon-based paints and the comparable structural morphology that we associate with very black coatings. In many cases, it is a significant challenge to put the blackest coating on something useful. We describe the growth of carbon nanotube forests on substrates such as metals and silicon along with the catalyst requirements and temperature limitations. We also describe coatings derived from carbon nanotubes and applied like paint. Another significant challenge is that of building the measurement apparatus and determining the optical properties of something having negligible reflectance. There exists information in the literature for effective media approximations to model the dielectric function of vertically aligned arrays. We summarize this as well as other approaches that are useful for predicting the coating behavior along with the refractive index of graphite from the literature that is necessary for the models we know of. In our experience, the scientific questions can be overshadowed by practical matters, so we provide an appendix of our best recipes for making as- grown, sprayed or other coatings for the blackest and most robust coating for a chosen substrate and a description of reflectance measur
Applied Physics Reviews


carbon nanotube, absorption, reflectance, index of graphite, chemical vapor deposition, effective medium, space qualification


Lehman, J. , Yung, C. , Tomlin, N. , Conklin, D. and Stephens, M. (2018), Carbon Nanotube-Based Black Coatings, Applied Physics Reviews, [online], (Accessed June 16, 2024)


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Created February 15, 2018, Updated November 10, 2018