back to article Quick-charging electric cars could be round the corner

The rules of the game for electrically-powered vehicles may be about to change, as new battery technology approaches road service. Thus far, modern electric vehicles such as the Tesla Roadster have tended to employ large lithium-ion battery packs coupled to electric motor-generators in lieu of petrol tanks and engines. This …


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  1. Andy Silver badge

    Interesting article, but...

    please lose all those TMs. Only the trademark holder has to assert it. The rest of us can happily live without those ugly appendages.

  2. Neill Mitchell

    Fake engine noise?

    I notice on the Lightning's website that it has a "Programmable external engine sound generator". So does it actually pretend to be a TVR in sound as well as looks?

    I guess it would be highly entertaining to switch between moped and Rolls Royce Avon engine sounds whilst tootling down the high street!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Only One Big Weakness?

    You're right about charge time for traditional rechargeable battery technologies - it's not just lithium ion which is slow to charge - but there are two other big problems with lithium ion battery packs which I would like to see looked into with this NanoSafe gubbins:

    1. battery life - lithium ion shows significant degradation after one year and most battery packs are shot in three (it's not for nothing that laptop makers consider batteries comsumables).

    It's annoying enough to replace one lead acid battery in your car every five years, what's the replacement cycle on the NanoSafe tech?

    2. charge leakage - rechargeables are notorious for losing charge when unused. Lithium ion actually isn't too bad compared to other rechargeables, but if NanoSafe is as incompetent at holding its charge as (say) NiCad then it may not gain any friends.

    Yes, you can leave your car plugged in at home, but if you've driven half the range of your vehicle to get somewhere remote and haven't enough juice after the batteries self-discharge to drive anywhere to fill up, then much unhappiness will ensue.

    But I'm with Lewis here - I hope it works.

  4. The Mighty Spang

    Free electricity!

    looking at the Lightning site, it appears the CO2 output of using electricity is 0, so you don't need to do carbon offsetting!

    yowzer, when did they achieve this?

  5. Arnold Lieberman

    Just what we need...

    What bright spark thought of putting high powered electrical outlets IN PETROL STATIONS!


  6. Fritz Whittington

    $300,000 for a plain-jane family sedan? Get serious!

    At that price, they won't have to worry about overloading the grid, since they won't sell more than 5.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dangers of batteries?

    Batteries in cars worries me. With a petrol powered car, the fuel in the tank can only release it's energy when atomised and combined with oxygen, making it relatively safe. Petrol cars that catch fire tend to burn rather than explode.

    Batteries on the other hand already contain everything they need to release all their energy (kinda like comparing a firework with an ordinary candle). We all know what happens to some laptop batteries don't we?

    Personally, I wouldn't fancy being in a crash in a car that contained a battery, which potentially contains many megajoules of energy all waiting to be released at once.


  8. Jim

    Is a petrol station the best place for a charging station

    While I can understand that, from a marketing point of view, a petrol station forecourt would be the ideal place to put a high power charging point, is that really wise?

    Initiating or interrupting a large current flow is inevitably going to produce a pretty nasty arc, the perfect thing to ignite petrol fumes. Now, you could use systems that mitigate the arc but these will fail, probably without warning, so it basically becomes a waiting game for the failure to happen with the correct combination of circumstances.

    This is no reason to poo-poo the concept but marketing should be a little better thought out.

  9. frank denton

    Great Idea, but.....

    Electric powered cars are a great idea, but I do wonder about winter driving which needs headlights and screen demisters, both power hungry devices. Also, where will the warm air to keep me comfortable be provided from?

    A hybrid vehicle would seem to be best suited to the UK climate and also the UK town and city drving conditions, using the batteries to take up the load when the internal combustion engine would otherwise be running under inefficient conditions.

  10. Robin

    Headlights a power hog ?

    Do you notice your car slowing down much when you put the headlights on ? The power drain of headlights is negligible compared to that needed to move a ton of car+battery around.

    Having said that I think you have a point about the heater unless battery discharging produces enough waste heat to keep things toasty.

  11. brian

    Li-Ions batteries dieing in one year

    Is this not due to overcharging. It was my understanding that overcharging is what kills them and gives them short battery life.

  12. Dillon Pyron

    Air conditioning

    Whereas AC is a real drag on power. There is a measurable difference in gas mileage when the AC is turned on. And power is noticeably down on all but the most powerful engines (which have crap mileage). The Prius now has electric AC and power steering. The electric AC has improved the mileage over engine powered, I'm sure it's still a significant drain on the battery. Since the power steering was always there, it's hard to tell what the impact is.

    Creature comforts will be the bane of electric cars.

  13. Wilm

    or you just swap the batteries

    at the corner shop/office/home where-ever. No fancy battery tech required, or infrastructure beyond a domestic power socket and an optional person with a cash till

  14. David Baldock

    No mention of how much more NanoSafe™ Batteries will cost

    Looks like the Altairnano NanoSafe™ batteries could have power densities up to 4 times higher than standard lithium ion batteries, and withstand up to 10 times the number of discharge/recharge cycles before they have to be replaced. (See That's good news, and they may be able to replace standard lithium ion batteries - but there's no mention of how much more they'll cost.

    Also, being able to quick-charge a large group of them (like in an Electric Vehicle) probably won't be possible in most US residential locations. A standard US home has a main circuit breaker panel rated at 150 - 300 Amps of 2-phase 120VAC. That's a total of 36KW to 72KW (calculated as: 240V (between Phases) x 150 to 300 Amps). There's a reference in ( to "a small, 7 kilowatt-hour (14–28 mi) pack". So to be able to drive 14-28 miles, it would require at least 30 Amps of 240VAC for 1 hour to recharge the battery pack (assuming very low losses in the AC to DC battery charger). Recharging it in 30 minutes would require at least 60 Amps of 240VAC. And a 15 minute charge would be 120 Amps! That's a significant additional load to be added to an average circuit breaker panel.

    If the batteries actually require a 3-Phase power system to recharge them (per the Lightning Car Company Ltd. quote), then it's really unlikely to happen in US residential areas, where 2-Phase power is normally available - but not 3-Phase power.

  15. Adrian Crooks

    High power outlets at gas stations is not a problem

    Currently you can set your self and station on fire just by getting out of your car. All you have to do is build up enough static on yourself or the skin of the car (drive through a dry dusty area at speed) and then you can create your own arc. Every year people start pumping gas and go back inside their car, pickup up some static and then when they go near the pump again they set it on fire.

    A high power outlet could easily be configured to connect under an enclosed shroud and do a programmed low power pre-check to verify all the connections are safe. Lets not knee jerk about minor issues (if any) here, it's not like someone will be able to pull the trigger on it and shoot lightning bolts at fellow motorists.

  16. Richard Clayton

    I have a solution

    Rather than having to charge up your car every few tens of miles on long journeys what you need is a slot in the motorway lane for a few hundred yards providing power to charge the batteries.

    Sound familiar...

    Yup that's right, Scalextric thought of it years ago. Might just work.

    Obviously without those chicaning bits though, that'd be taking it too far.

  17. Andy

    re: free electricity.

    Using electicity has always been 0 carbon.

    It's *generating* it that damages the environment.

  18. Morely Dotes

    Headlights and heaters not a serious issue

    I'm charter member of NEDRA (National Electric Drag Racing Association, membership #100) and we measured the headlight draw as negligible. Cabin heater/defroster can reduce range by up to 20%, depending on climate, but there are electric heater cores especially designed for low air-flow restriction.

    Incidentally, drag racing is ideal for electric cars - the biggest issue is getting enough traction off the line to maximize acceleration without burning off all your tire tread.

  19. The Mighty Spang

    re: free electricity.

    thanks for pointing that out andy, if I had have known that, i wouldnt have written my sarcastic comment in the 1st place...

    (btw thats more sarcasm if you hadn't noticed)

  20. Sarev

    Here's an idea...

    If everyone had a nice, beefy petrol-powered generator on their drive, they could use that to recharge their car. Ah, hold on a mo...

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Been there done that. Old news.

    Watch and learn, you will be amazed.

  22. G R Goslin

    High power at filling stations Is a problem

    I looked at this situation, many years ago, and came to the conclusion that re-charges were not going to happen if the electric battery was to replace the IC engine. In order for a new system to usurp an old, the user has usually to be assured that the new system is to be no more inconvenient than the old. In this case re-charging has to be no more inconvenient than filling the petrol tank. Unfortunately, no one really looks at the enormously condensed form of power that petrol/diesel represents. When we pull up at the pumps and fill up, we are transferring power at the rate of gigawatts per hour.

    Petrol and diesel in terms of energy, yield about 9KWhr per litre, so filling the tank with (say) 40 litres of fuel, represents a re-charge of some 360 KWhours. The average car driver would balk if this took even as long as five minutes. I'd say that two minutes is nearer the reality. However, taking the five minute option, since he can be paying the bill, and is unlikely to be holding the wires against the battery terminals, this turns out at a charging rate of 4,320 KW per hour. Now we're into the realm of gigswatts, usually associated with generating stations. Lets say that the charging voltage is 200 volts, this then sets the charging current at 21,600 amps. This BTW is in the form of DC, and since the generating companies long since gave up the practice of supplying DC, means that some hefty rectification will be required.

    I realise that electric motors are more efficient than IC engines, although the efficiency of the generators of that electricity are not that much better than car engines, we have to take into consideration that the fug that most car drivers like to carry around with them is derived from the waste heat, and that now has to be supplied from the prime power store. So, if we allow that the battery only has to carry half the power of the original fuel tank, we're still talking big numbers.

    One of the more reputable American SF novels, once published a factual article covering this. One of the odd factors that has to be accounted for are the VERY powerful magnetic fields generated by currents of this magnitude.

  23. Brian Raffety

    Addressing a few concerns and adding a few of my own...

    Fellow readers, you post good questions, and at least according to the Altairnano and one third part report, there is good news about these batteries.

    First, althought the CO2 output of electric-powered vehicles (EV) is 0, there is a cost in the initial production of the electricity if it is generated by burning fossil fuels or if fossil fuels are used in the production of the electricity. The good news is that even at today's mixture of old, new and renewable electricity generating sources, there is much less CO2 and fossil fuel consumption per mile of EV travel. Take a look at the Tesla white paper at They claim 1/6th the energy consumptiion and 1/10th the CO2 compared to an internal conbustion engine with similar performance. So switching to EVs would be good for energy efficiency and good for the environment. What's more, most drivers would slow-charge at home over night and off the peak power usage. This is also good because we have to keep the electricity grid charged and ready, and this means that we pump energy throught he system that is never used. Let's put it in our automobile batteries... Some estimates suggest the the current power grid in the US could supply enough energy to replace nearly 90% of motor vehichle miles as is, without adding additional capacity.

    Second, and more specific to the Altairnano batteries, unlike Li-Ion batteries, the Altair product does NOT show significant degradation for thousands of FULL charge and discharge cycles. Altair estimates that the batteries retain over 80% of their capacity after some 20,000 charge-discharge cycles, and they have test data documenting at least 15,000 cycles. This is equivilent to perhaps a decade of normal use -- or more. Similarly, Altair claims that there is no significant charge leakage. Based on these Altair claims, the batteries have a life expectancy as long as the vehicle.

    Third, unlike Li-Ion batteries that tend to explode when damaged, overheated or charged too quickly, Altair claims that they have done rigorous safety testing with no significant heating and no explosions or burning batteries. In the same tests, conventional LI-ion batteries exploded, smoked, and caught fire.

    Fourth, although your readers don't mention this, LI-ion batteries also have a limited operating temperature range, with best chargability in room temperatures, limited chargability below freezing, and diminished chargability above room temperatures . In comparison, Altair claims that their batteries retain most of their capacity to be charged at -50 C and at temperatures far, far in excess of normal conditions. This means the batteries can be used in any normal ambient temperature range. That's important in the cold of winter and the heat of the desert.

    I do have some concerns about the Altair product. Although the batteries are reported to charge very quickly and to give up their charge very quickly -- an important characteristic for accelleration -- their excptional power density is only half the story. They also have a lower energy carrying capacity than LI-ion, being able to only hold something like 50 to 70% of the total charge.

    Also, it is not clear if the Altair product will be cost competitive. Can Altair bring the price down? Pheoenix motorcar is "about" to sell a mid-sized SUV and SUT for about US$45,000 that is Altairnano powered. But is isn't clear what the real price of these vehicles is because the company will be getting government "green" technology support. The Phoenix vehicle has a 130 mile range, top speed of 90 mph, and holds 5 adults plus cargo -- and yes, the batteries charge in under 10 minutes given the big electric plug-in. They also report a 250-mile battery is under development. Whether it's just a bigger battery or an improvement in energy carrying capacity, I don't know.

    All that said, I'm a supporter of the Altair effort (and I did buy a few thousand shares a couple weeks ago -- so I'm not exactly unbiased). But I've never seen, tested, or used this product. But I'm eagerly awaiting the availability of the Phoenix EVs...

  24. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Nice to know

    that shareholders are enthusiastic about the technology. Personally I would welcome laptop and flashlight batteries that can recharge in seconds. As for the car, well Altair can make all the wonderful claims it wants, I'll wait for real-life use before I start believing the hype. Right now, Altair needs market awareness, and whatever they state is nothing but PR as long as nobody else can test the stuff independently.

    That said, I sincerely hope that Altair will pull it off and give us batteries that don't explode and can recharge in a jiffy. I can't wait for the day those annoying motorbikes be condemned to silence.

  25. Paul


    there is a technology allowing "instant" (well, comparatively) recharging, it's supercapacitors.

    whilst these are not suitable for replacing the entire battery pack as they do not store enough energy, but they are very good at providing a short-term "buffer" to release energy quickly.

    Note to the many science illiterate commentators here: you don't store power or current or volts, you store charge or energy. kWh is a measure of energy, not power. kW is a measure of power.

  26. Andy Davies

    "dozens of kilowatt-hours in a matter of minutes"

    let's put some ballpark figures in here:

    say 60Kwh in 6 minutes (about as long as anyone would want to wait in a filling station) -

    thats 600Kw

    at 240v that means 2,500 amps (sheesh!)

    and assuming just 1% wasted as heat is the same as two three-bar electic fires running in your car for 6 minutes!

    AndyD 8-)#

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Silent motorbikes....

    ....yeah, that will be safe won't it?

  28. Micha Roon

    I have a hard time believing this

    If you want to charge 50KWh (which is only 4 dozen) in 60 minutes you need 2'500V at 20 Amps

    Now lets reduce that tho a couple minutes. Two minutes is a fine number but four will do. You take your pick: either you multiply the Voltage by 15 or the Amperage or you do a combination of both.

    But 37'500 Volts at 20 Amps for 4 minutes to charge your battery will require a bit more than just heavy duty gear. This is industrial strength and the currently available power sockets at a garage can not cope with that. Even the 3 Phase 380 Volt ones.

    Just for your info: 37'500 Volts, that's 100 380 Volt sockets and 300 phases. You might be able to find that kind of power in an aluminum factory.

    Or is my math flawed.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Dedicated charging stations maybe. I'll bet it'll still prove impossible to get everyone to agree on a standard socket though (local regs for leccy are notoriously finicky).

    Makes emerging from the Chunnel and finding you've forgotten to bring a power adaptor a little more serious than usual.

    Hell, never mind the various goverments involved, just getting the potential vehicle manufacturers to agree would be something.

    Oh, on the subject of battery swapping, it's been looked at. The twin nightmares of a) moving a palleted tonne of batteries around garage forecourts and b) designing a car that something of this size and weight can be swapped in and out of and standardised across models and manufacturers without compromising functionality rule this one out.


  30. Stephen Wilkinson

    Silent Motorbikes

    Loud wires save lives?

  31. Joel

    What about flow batteries?

    One possible way around this would be to develop flow batteries. Rather than fuel cells, these are batteries where the electrolyte is pumped into the battery from an external reservoir, and the discharged electrolyte is pumped out to be recharged later (or in a different location).

    These batteries already have applications in storing wind generated power (

    and have been suggested as possible power sources for vehicles. Filling stations would supply charged electrolyte, and exchange it for discharged electrolyte. This would be recharged and re-used. You could still charge the electrolyte in situ by plugging in the car, but you could also extend the range by swapping out the electrolyte at filling stations. Swapping liquids into cars is something that we are already familiar with....

    The negatives are that the energy density of flow batteries are not as high as Li-ion batteries, but I suspect that this can be improved through research.



  32. Mark Harrison

    Realistic use scenario

    I think that the comments above should be considered in a realistic usage scenario. I drive 50 miles to work and back each day. This is within the range of current battery-powered cars. Occasionally I drive 500 miles to London and back.. This is outside the scope of battery powered cars so I would never buy one.

    If I assume that I am Mr Average, 1% of my journeys would require me to complete a fast charge mid-journey. The remaining 99% would be taken from my domestic connection in my garage overnight (I don't have off-street parking at the moment, so it may prove tricky).

    On those (let's say) four occasions a year I do go to a Service Station on the M1 the provider of my 7 billion amps (what did we decide on?) will charge me my left arm and half of my right leg to use their fast-charge service compared with my Economy 7 overnight feed running across the pavement. The govt. will want to support electric cars, so will not charge me too much tax, meaning it will still be cheaper (the consumer's raison d'etre) for me to do a fast charge on the M1 than use a hydrocarbon fuel.

    I've got a car that will be green (on slow charge), will have the range I need (on fast charge) and will be cheaper and cleaner to run overall.

    Service Stations providing the electricity charging may have to invest in expensive equipment and have their own substation, but they work in a changing market and are in business so will respond (LPG availability is growing). They only really make serious money from cigarettes, bottled water and chocolate bars, don't they? Green subsidies will be on offer, too.

    I think that the fast-charge battery of cells will help make positive decisions to buy electric cars easier by removing the range issue, even though the fast-charge is only used occasionally; I like my aircon, I rarely use it, but chose my car because I wanted it to be available for when I do need it.

  33. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

    Won't overload the grid, what a load of ...

    "... Most garage forecourt and industrial areas already have this level of high power source available and therefore can be fitted with a universal charging station."

    Others have put forward the sort of power ratings required, and rest assured there are VERY few places where you could sup that sort of power from the local distribution network without causing problems. Fundamentally, local distribution networks just do not have the capacity to start hanging this sort of load off them - so that means a lot of VERY expensive infrastructure upgrades.

    Oh yes, don't forget that the figures quoted are for charging ONE car, if it's 500kW for one, that's 12MW for a forecourt with 12 cars all charging - don't forget that even at these rates it will be slower than liquid fuel.

    The next problem is the effect such a load would have on the local supply. I'm sure many people are familiar with the effect where you can just discern that the lights have dimmed when some large load is switched on - you can believe that if you suddenly switch on several hundreds of kilowatts of load then that's going to make all the lights in the area go dim until the automatic regulators can re-adjust the voltage.

    Even worse is what happens at the end of charge - you drop half a megawatt off the system and the voltage will go up. There'll be a good market for protective equipment (and not the £10 surge suppressors) in the area as people get fed up of replacing their blown equipment.

    Even if everyone slow charges at home, that's not without it's problems. Domstic supplies (and the network that feeds them) are designed on the basis that not many homes will take a large load at the same time - you start drawing (say) 10kW on every drive and that too will cause some significant problems in the network.

  34. Bob Hannent

    Charging capacitance

    I was thinking about this huge current demand, instantly charging is going to create a problem, obviously presenting a 2500Amp demand on the network isn't very efficient. But I was thinking, you could easily keep a spare set of batteries at home, not swap them out but use them with a trickle charge to store the required charge and then when you plug in you dump the charge from one to the other. The same could apply to using an array of "supercaps" as well.

    Storing this much potential would be bulky and need to be done safely, but it removes the worry about how to get that much charge in to the home. Also the same could apply to petrol stations, they could be fed with 500kW three phase feeders and then underground supercaps could be used to regulate the demand. No more dangerous and polluting than the current way petrol stations are built.


  35. Mark Harrison

    Re: Charging capacitance

    Bob, you are right, as the simple ideas are the best. From what I remember of being a distracted youth in Physics, capacitors are not great at holding the charge efficiently so what would the true cost of running the car be. The garage may waste 50% of the energy consumed during the times when nobody is "filling up".

    I think Service Stations will not offer the theoretical maximum current to drivers, considering it best to give them 15 minutes to browse the shops as their car is juiced up.

    Aside: will this mean an end to the much-debated mobile phones ban on forecourts? The warning posters could be re appropriated to warn motorists not to connect their phone to the 500KVA supply?!?!

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Big numbers

    Sorry to double-post, but something occurred to me.

    Take the charging numbers you're all thinking of. Now multiply by a dozen-odd for your Motorway Service station. Can the local grid supply still cope? The charge rate is immaterial here. If you reduce the supply, you have to increase the number of terminals to avoid queueing. The instantaneous current draw is the same.

    Still, sorts out where to site those Nuclear power stations. Next to Mway Service areas seems favourite.


  37. Trevor

    Main problem of battery vehicles potentially fixed

    Currently, I find this argument revolting. Wire we waiting for a 'ohm charger.

    I find the whole idea insulating. How could anyone be so naive as to be induced to believe this crap.

    Seriously though the net energy needs to be calculated to determine if there really is a saving changing to these alternatives.

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