ABG Reader Question: What does it take to charge a battery in 10 minutes?

We regularly get questions from readers asking for more detail or clarifications on the topics we write about. This morning Andrea wrote in with this question:

I was wondering if you could help me out. I was reading about this new car, the Lighting, that uses NanoSafe batteries you talked about in one of your posts. They say that in order to charge it's nanosafe batteries you only need 10 minutes. Is it only 10 minutes of normal electricity (the one we have at home)? Are they saying that you plug your batteries into a normal home outlet for 10 minutes and you are done or there's something I am missing?

The answer to this question is an unequivocal NO! You can plug in the Altairnano (or A123) batteries into a 110V outlet to charge but that takes 6-8 hours for a full charge. The fast charging capability requires a special charging station that no one is likely to have at home any time in the foreseeable future.

When ABG interviewed Altairnano CEO Dr. Alan Gotcher earlier this year he explained what was needed. The fast charging requires 480V and somewhere between 500-1000 amps. They foresee gas stations and the like installing charge stations that would store electricity locally in something like a huge capacitor and then pump it into the car on demand. This kind of station won't be cheap, requires a huge cable to charge the battery at that rate and poses potential safety risks. When I spoke to Ric Fulop of A123 last week, he explained that their batteries are capable of such fast charging as well, but they aren't advertising it or focusing on it because of the infrastructure that would be needed to support it. So even though Phoenix, Zap, Lightning and Altairnano are talking up that capability, don't expect anyone, except perhaps some fleet operators, to be able to do this.

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