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Startup Volta will charge your electric car for free -- seriously

There's a catch, though. You didn't seriously think there wouldn't be a catch?

Volta free DC fast charger
Free? I like free.

Electric-car charging infrastructure is all over the map in the wrong way. Some companies require a membership card; no company I know of takes a simple credit card to unlock a station. And availability is, let's be honest, seriously limited outside of coastal states.

Volta wants to change that. The startup said earlier this month that it will begin to expand its free charging model across the US. Yep, that's correct, this company will juice up electric cars without a penny needed from EV drivers. Too good to be true? Perhaps, it just depends on how much advertisements bother you.

The free charging concept will see its funding come from embedded advertisements at stations. Advertisers, effectively, make up for the revenue EV drivers would typically provide when they pay to unlock a station and gulp down a load of electrons for their car. Volta plans to install 150 DC fast chargers to start across the US. That's not a lot, but as they say, it has to start somewhere.

The second catch: These stations will only juice an electric car up for 30 minutes. In that amount of time, drivers should see about 175 miles of range, according to Volta. That's nearly enough to top off almost any mass-market EV on sale today. Even so, owners typically don't grind their electric cars to a near-empty battery. It's that whole range-anxiety concept at work. Theoretically, EV drivers could make a stop at a Volta charger once every couple of days to top the battery off without paying a thing.

Charging rates, for now, will be capped at 100 kW, though some will be 50 kW stations. All a user needs is to use the Volta app to unlock a station and start charging. If a driver does need more than 30 minutes, Volta will simply charge a fee to keep the station unlocked to fully recharge a battery, or provide the amount of distance a driver desires.

As for where these free chargers will start to crop up, the company plans to first focus on major metro areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, DC. However, the first of these new stations will open in Norwalk, Connecticut, later this month.

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