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Thorium Powered Cars Could Become Reality!

Discussion in 'Engineering & Technology News' started by Shreyas, Aug 13, 2011.

  1. Shreyas

    Shreyas Apprentice

    We are already seeing many innovative technologies been applied to power cars with alternative energy sources. Cars running on hybrid fuels, electricity and solar power are helping to shift the focus from gasoline-powered engines to cars running on renewable or greener sources. Laser Power Systems, U.S, based company, has claimed to come with an engine that runs on thorium. The commercial application seems years away but Charles Stevens, CEO of Laser Power Systems has already envisaged a prototype that only needs some minor modifications to become as a promising alternative source of energy for a car engine.

    Cadillac World Thorium Fuel concept car designed by Loren Kulesus (Via: cars-show.org)

    Thorium is already used in nuclear power plants to act as heat generating medium by the means of nuclear fission. When thorium disintegrates into different elements, it also gives out a large amount of heat. This heat is used to run the nuclear plant. India is in the forefront when it comes to usage of thorium as a raw material for nuclear power plants. Charles Stevens plans to design a customized application that is built for a purpose. The prototype will be generating electricity as the end product. Thorium will be used as the heat generating medium to convert water into steam. The plan is to fire up thorium with the help of an external source. The unit could generate electricity within 30 seconds of its firing.

    Thorium is known to give out heat surges. These heat surges are more popularly called as thorium based laser. Charles Stevens plans to use these lasers to vaporize the water inside mini turbines. These mini turbines in effect would power up the car. According to him, a 227 kg unit will be capable of producing around 250 MW of energy. The amount of energy is huge considering the fact that the unit will be small enough to be fitted in a car. As thorium’s density is almost same as uranium, the potential energy stored in it is huge. When thorium molecules become denser, they give spurts of heat. This heat will be put to good use. A car running with the initial fueling of 8 gm of thorium would not need refueling for thousands and thousands of miles.

    Named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder, thorium has highest melting point (3,182° F) of all oxides. Thorium is more abundant than uranium and it is estimated that the world’s richest thorium reserves could lie in India. This fact is consolidated by India’s attempts to build nuclear plants that are powered more by thorium and less by uranium. But the problem is that thorium cannot be directly used as in nuclear plants as uranium. In addition, as the demand of thorium is less, the exploration techniques adopted for are failing to see the cutting edge technological benefits in its domain. It needs many steps of processing to make it as a passable source of energy for the nuclear reactors. Hence, even though India has world’s largest deposits of thorium, its use in nuclear plants is limited.

    Other interesting fact why most of the nuclear plants all around the world use uranium instead of thorium is that when uranium is used as a raw material, it gives out plutonium as a byproduct after fission. Plutonium could be used to  build weapons. This ideology was developed and pursued by industrialists after the WW II. Hence, the present industrial technology psyche is still with uranium based nuclear plants and not with thorium. It is almost impossible to get any useful material to build weapons from thorium. Hence, the craze for plutonium! But countries like India, Russia, Germany, France, the Netherlands have realized the importance of thorium and have undertaken research work related with it.

    As of now, the development of portable and usable mini turbine and generator is more difficult than designing the thorium laser unit. But Charles Stevens is upbeat and think that a commercial prototype on road will be a reality in less than two years. As far as the problem of radioactivity of thorium is concerned, it can be solved with a simple technique. Thorium has very less radioactivity and its isotopes can be blocked with an aluminum foil. Thus, thorium based power unit can be simply fitted within a 3 inch stainless steel box without the fear of its radioactivity.

    People are skeptical about the idea of thorium-powered cars. Submarines and oil tankers already run on nuclear powered engines but reducing the size of these engine units to be compatible with that of car’s size will be a daunting task. In addition, there are serious concerns regarding the byproducts resulting from thorium’s disintegration. There are fears that these by products could be put to deadly use. Nevertheless, Charles Stevens is firm that developing these by products into dangerous weapons requires a great deal of research and expertise in the field. He says that he is building a “subcritical” system. It means that the thorium inside the unit would not undergo any nuclear reaction. It will remain as it is and would not change into Uranium-233. Uranium-233 is formed only when thorium is superheated and generates a fission reaction. The engine unit been developed by Stevens works at very less temperatures than this temperature limits.

    Use of thorium has its other advantages such as negligible production of nuclear waste products. Uranium is notorious for producing a large number of nuclear waste products who have to be dealt with separate special disposal techniques. Working with 40 workers, operating from an in-house research workshop, Charles Stevens has caught the attention by his declaration to build thorium-powered car. If it becomes a reality, the dependence on gasoline for cars is sure to go down by a large percentage.
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  2. What utter twaddle....this has scam written all over it.

    First, Thorium isn't a material known to lase - and "heat surges" (whatever they may be) are nothng to do with lasing. Nor is persuading a material to lase a net creator of energy - the total energy of the emitted photons will always be less than the energy required for "pumping" - in fact, most lasers are extremely inefficient, converting at best a small percentage of the energy input.

    Second, stimulating alpha and beta emissions/decay isn't something you can achieve by doing anything to do with lasers - nor do alpha or beta particles play any part in a nuclear chain reaction (neither is absorbed by other nuclei).  That requires neutrons and fission reactions.

    There are about a dozen other obvious gaping holes in this (work out, for example just how much surface area you'd need to remove 250MW of heat from this unit at (say) 700-800C - then compare it to the surface area available in the "car engine" sized unit).  For comparison, the gas-turbine engines used in Concorde produced about 37MW each.

    For a website that claims to be looking at what engineers come up with, you don't seem to have applied even the smallest amount of the sort of analysis that an actual engineer would immediately think of.
  3. Moreover, the decay products from Thorium have highly energetic gamma rays associated with their decay. One from Thallium 208 is 2.614MeV and would not be shielded by Al or Steel.
  4. [...] Thorium Powered Cars Could Become Reality!CrazyEngineers VoiCEWe are already seeing many innovative technologies been applied to power cars with alternative energy sources. Cars running on hybrid fuels, electricity and solar power are helping to shift the focus from gasoline-powered engines to cars running on …and more » [...]
    From:  http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf62.html
    The problems include:

    The high cost of fuel fabrication, due partly to the high
    radioactivity of U-233 chemically separated from the irradiated thorium
    fuel. Separated U-233 is always contaminated with traces of U-232 (69
    year half-life but whose daughter products such as thallium-208 are
    strong gamma emitters with very short half-lives). Although this confers
    proliferation resistance to the fuel cycle by making U-233 hard to
    handle and easy to detect, it results in increased costs.The similar problems in recycling thorium itself due to highly
    radioactive Th-228 (an alpha emitter with two-year half life) present.Some concern over weapons proliferation risk of U-233 (if it could
    be separated on its own), although many designs such as the Radkowsky
    Thorium Reactor address this concern.The technical problems (not yet satisfactorily solved) in
    reprocessing solid fuels. However, with some designs, in particular the
    molten salt reactor (MSR), these problems are likely to largely

    Much development work is still required before the thorium fuel cycle
    can be commercialised, and the effort required seems unlikely while (or
    where) abundant uranium is available. In this respect, recent
    international moves to bring India into the ambit of international trade
    might result in the country ceasing to persist with the thorium cycle,
    as it now has ready access to traded uranium and conventional reactor
  6. I sort of see how this works, its a bit like the conversion of allotropes of plutonium.
    So essentially it converts one allotrope (lower density) into another (higher density) releasing heat in the process. Sounds plausible, although I'd like to see the paper(s) explaining how he is doing this using a laser.
  7. This is ridiculous. Absurd. 
  8. I love reading the negativity of the below responders based on their own conjecture of how the unit will run. A laser doesnt necessarily mean a laser with a beam of light . DrStevens never said it will be a beam of light laser. So please all you geniuses ( self proclaimed all be it) take your blinders off  and try to look outside your self contained limited box
  9. Scott you come to that conclusion based on what . You have no idea of what the design is or how it will work . So based on your own limited way of thinking and your own conjecture you proclaim its absurd ?? Actually your comment is whats absurd as you have no idea what the design is or how it will work
  10. Like wise just because you have a negative slant towards thorium( obviously you are pro uranium) doesnt mean that it wont work . You also have no idea what the design is or how it will work yet you make all kinds of technical quotations
  11. And here we have yet another that has no idea what the design is and proclaims it as a scam . Wow this really is amusing that so many can post conjecture about a new tech and yet have no idea what the tech actually is
  12. We have sufficient to know that the physics, as described in the article is tosh.

    Two options - either the article is utterly unrepresentative, or the scheme is a scam. 

    Which do you prefer?
  13. High-powered electric locomotives  typically have a peak power output of 5 or 6 MW. This design calls for 250 MW for a car. This is half  the power  power used by modern nuclear submarines. I have a few thousand other problems with this ridiculously absurd scam but no real reason to write a treatise on this extraordinarily foolish article. I would like to know what a "thorium based laser" is.
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    A. Sahlman, Paul Marshall, and Richard G. Hamermesh, eds. New Business Ventures
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  15. Pat, maybe he meant 250MW over the life of the vehicle, not continuous output?  As to the rest, all I know is that a lot of energy can be extracted out of thorium somehow, as there are thorium reactor designs. Whether this is the basis of a scam or this guy has a great idea we shall see.
  16. How safe it is and how Eco friendly this is?

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