Can You Jumpstart a Car, Or Charge an EV, With a Lightning Bolt?
By the power of Grayskull!
Earlier this week, a security camera caught a lightning bolt striking one of JR Motorsports’ trucks in the race team’s parking lot. Not an uncommon occurrence, as lighting strikes the Earth 8.6 million times each day. What caught my attention, however, was that the lightning strike seemingly turned the truck on when it was clearly off previously.
In the video, you can see that the truck’s headlights are off. Then it gets hit and then they’re on. This apparent jumpstarting got me thinking. If you could harness that energy, and you know, not fry every fuse and capacitor, how many cars could you jumpstart using a lightning bolt? And on that same line of thinking, could you fully charge an EV? I mean, Doc Brown did it, why can’t we?
Turns out, you could theoretically do both, it would just require quite a bit of engineering and a lot of luck. But again, possible. Let’s get into the science and see some serious shit!
Is it Possible to Channel Lightning Energy Into Something Useable?
Firstly, yes, it is technically possible. An average lightning bolt produces around 300 million volts, which translates to 30,000 amps of electricity, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). That's more than enough energy to jumpstart a car/cars and/or charge an EV.
But harnessing the electricity produced by the bolt is something that James Kirtley, MIT professor of electrical engineering and a specialist in electric machinery and power systems, says would require “complex capture and storage facilities and distribution systems that in the end would unlikely yield enough energy to justify their expense.” In an article from MIT, Kirtley tells the author “To start with, attracting a lightning bolt would take much more sophisticated equipment than an iron key at the end of a silk string. Tall metallic rods extending high above the ground would do the trick, drawing any electrical charges in the atmosphere and directing them into a facility. But robust and dependable safety mechanisms would also need to be built to immediately contain the huge burst of energy and prevent the entire facility from being blown to bits.”
You’d also need a host of other things to work out just right, including knowing where and when the lighting strike would happen. I don’t know if you know this, but that’s a pretty tall order in itself.
But again, if we could overcome the obstacles above, we could harness all that energy. So let’s talk about jumpstarting a car and charging an EV.
How Many Cars Can Jumpstart With a Lightning Bolt
Not every car is the same, and some will require different amperages, but the average light passenger car, i.e. not a semi truck or heavy duty diesel pickup, requires around 400-600 amps to jumpstart a dead battery. When put against the lightning’s 30,000 amp output, if you could channel it safely, you could jumpstart 50 vehicles (30,000 amps divided by the max 600 amp jumpstarting needs). More if you only needed the 400 amp charge.
That’s not as many as you’d think, but that’s just one lightning strike. Multiply that by 8.6 million strikes per day and you could jumpstart 430,000,000 cars. That’s about a third of the cars on the planet. But what about EVs? Could you charge an EV?
Can You Charge an EV With a Lightning Bolt
Like jumpstarting a car with a lightning bolt, you could—theoretically—charge an EV in the same manner. Let’s take the Porsche Taycan, an EV I absolutely adore. The Taycan’s battery pack is 93.4kW—or a nominal 723 volts (it could be between 610-835) and 129 amps—and because of its electrical architecture can charge up to 270kWh max.
Clearly, if you just struck the Porsche’s power supply port with a lightning strike, yeah, you’d have roasted Taycan. But if you harnessed the energy and stored it, you could charge it and 414,936 other Taycans from a single strike.
If you could somehow funnel all of the lightning’s energy into the Taycan, well then, let’s do some math on how fast you could charge it. The fastest chargers around allow the Porsche to charge from 5% to 80% charge in about 20 minutes. A lightning strike moves at a speed of 270,000 mph and offers up a whopping 300 million volts. As the Taycan only needs 723 volts, it would charge in approximately 0.0108 of a minute or 0.00018075 of a second. DC fast chargers need to up their game.
So You're Saying There's a Chance?
Absolutely, you could jumpstart your car, as well as 49 friends' cars, and charge an EV in record time with a lightning bolt. But we don’t have the engineering capabilities to harness that power just yet. You could also just buy a Noco jumpstarter or get a charge station from Porsche, too. It's up to you, though we legally have to say that we're not responsible for you trying to Ben Franklin your car and ending up BBQ'd.
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