Hey – how much Thorium you got under the hood?

Much like “flying cars”, atomic powered cars were a campy futuristic meme of the 50’s, for example, there was the Ford Nucleon concept:

File:Ford Nucleon.jpg

From Wikipedia: The Ford Nucleon was a scale model concept car developed by Ford Motor Company in 1958 as a design on how a nuclear-powered car might look. The design did not include an internal-combustion engine, rather, the vehicle was to be powered by a small nuclear reactor in the rear of the vehicle, based on the assumption that this would one day be possible based on shrinking sizes. The car was to use a steam engine powered by uranium fission.

It looks a little bit like the Bat mobile from the rear:

Now it looks like we might actually see a real one, using Thorium rather than Uranium, which not only is safer to manage, you don’t have to worry about some terrorist car-jacking your ride for fissile materials.

Here’s the new concept. Thorium could be used in conjunction with a laser and mini turbines to easily produce enough electricity to power a vehicle. When thorium is heated, it generates further heat surges, allowing it to be coupled with mini turbines to produce steam that can then be used to generate electricity. It is said that 1 gram of thorium produces the equivalent energy of 7,500 gallons of gasoline.

Here’s the headline from Ward’s Auto:

U.S. Researcher Preparing Prototype Cars Powered by Heavy-Metal Thorium

By Keith Nuthall

A U.S. company says it is getting closer to putting prototype electric cars on the road that will be powered by the heavy-metal thorium.

Thorium is a naturally occurring, slightly radioactive rare-earth element discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. It is found in small amounts in most rocks and soils, where it is about three times more abundant than uranium.

Thorium is silvery, often with black tarnish - image: Wikipedia

The key to the system developed by inventor Charles Stevens, CEO and chairman of Connecticut-based Laser Power Systems, is that when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat.

Small blocks of thorium generate heat surges that are configured as a thorium-based laser, Stevens tells Ward’s. These create steam from water within mini-turbines, generating electricity to drive a car.

A 250 MW (I think this is a typo, they probably mean KW – Anthony) unit weighing about 500 lbs. (227 kg) would be small and light enough to drop under the hood of a car, he says.

Jim Hedrick, a specialist on industrial minerals – and until last year the U.S. Geological Survey’s senior advisor on rare earths – tells Ward’s the idea is “both plausible and sensible.”

Stevens says his company should be able to place a prototype on the road within two years. The firm has 40 employees and operates out of an in-house research workshop.

View Chart Larger

Hedrick, the industrial minerals expert, says 7,500 gallons is “way more gasoline than an average person uses in a year. Switching to thorium-driven cars would make the U.S. energy self-sufficient, and carbon emissions would plummet.

“It would eliminate the major need for oil,” he says. “The main (remaining) demand would be for asphalt for roadways, natural gas, plastics and lubricants.”

Full story here.

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I want one. 8 grams of Thorium in a  V shaped reactor block. The new atomic V-8. The only downside is that I won’t be able to overhaul the engine myself as I would imagine the Thorium would be in a sealed power module. I might add, that this endeavor sounds a little bit like a Tucker, long on promise, short on delivery.

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ADDENDUM:

I published this story late Friday night at 1AM and then went on a trip the next day, I was surprised to learn that people missed my cues and thought I took the Ward’s article seriously. I thought the headline and first sentence set the tone with “flying cars” and “campy”.

Few seemed to understand the Tucker comment at the end either:

“I might add, that this endeavor sounds a little bit like a Tucker, long on promise, short on delivery.”

The Tucker was a car sold on futuristic promises in the mind of a man that hadn’t actually designed or built the car. Preston Tucker floated the concept in Science Illustrated magazine in December 1946  followed by a full page advertisement in March 1947 in many national newspapers claiming “How 15 years of testing produced the car of the year”. He was immediately overwhelmed with pre-orders for a car that didn’t even exist on paper. Hence my comment: “I want one”.

Tucker then got a bunch of investors together to try to fill orders, and got some government help with loan of a WWII supply factory that had been idled after the war. The factory eventually produced 50 cars, but it was too late, as many had lost confidence and he was embroiled in an SEC investigation and court trial over investor funds.

The 1948 Tucker Torpedo- click for article

The cars finally produced didn’t have many of the futuristic features that had been promised early on. Some were there, and Tucker was credited with inspiring improved auto safety as a result.

I thought my reference to a Tucker automobile was about as strong a label as anyone could make as the promises of this thorium car being hyped. The parallel seemed obvious.

I guess next time I’ll have to be more explicit. with a /sarc tag – Anthony

 

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173 thoughts on “Hey – how much Thorium you got under the hood?

  1. “Because thorium is so dense, similar to uranium, it stores considerable potential energy: 1 gm of thorium equals the energy of 7,500 gallons (28,391 L) of gasoline Stevens says. So, using just 8 gm of thorium in a car should mean it would never need refueling.”
    ————————–
    What’s the life time of those T grams though?

  2. I’d say no. Atomic fission occurs in the nucleus and as such it’s immune to any influences, like heat or electronic exitation, that can affect the thorium atom.

    It all boils down to a mismatch between the amount of energy transferred by thermal process and the energy needed to affect the nucleus.

    It’s a bit like kicking an armoured tank. The tank does not notice.

  3. Wow, with 335.120 hp I sure do want one too! And no one here in Germany would be pestering me about the CO2 emissions…

    Must surely be 250 KW, right? Which would still be cool.

    Best regards,

    Marcus

  4. Damn these culturally variant number formats! Of the course in my post above I mean 335,120 hp!

    Marcus

  5. What about using it in larger vehicles first, where its weight and bulk would be less problematic? E.g., trucks, buses, trains, and ships.

  6. Oh dear.

    First we get magical cold nuclear fusion, nickel to copper. etc etc.

    Now we have a thorium process offering 250 MW. Do you have any idea how much power that is? and all in a 500 lb package. Unless they mean 250 MWHr for the life of the unit. Even so pretty amazing.

    And of course laser stimulated, well it may be a surprise but we were doing that kind of thing nearly forty years ago. With a conspicuous lack of success.

    Seems what goes around comes around and what did not work then won’t work now.

    Sorry about that. Nice pipedream and all that.

    But I suppose the charlatans are ever with us.

    So sorry.

    Kindest Regards

  7. If this (or Rossi’s E-Cat) works, it will vindicate those who claim that technological breakthroughs will save the day, as they have in the past.

  8. “The key to the system developed by inventor Charles Stevens, CEO and chairman of Connecticut-based Laser Power Systems, is that when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat.”

    How does heating it make it more dense? Aren’t heat and density inversely related?

  9. Surely this is nonsense!. Can’t people see that?
    Where is this miraculous power supposed to come from? “When thorium is heated, it generates further heat surges” – this would seem to violate the 1st Law – the Conservation of Energy. – Youu don’t get ‘owt for nowt. “It stores considerable potential energy….1 gram of thorium produces the equivalent energy of 7,500 gallons of gasoline”. obviously ridiculous unless some nuclear reaction is occurring However, we are told this is not a nuclear reaction ” Stevens agrees, emphasizing his system is ‘subcritical.’ This means no nuclear reaction occurs within the thorium. It remains in the same state and is not turned into uranium 233″ – in which case you won’t get any power out of it!

    Nuclear Thorium reactors of course work by first transmuting Thorium into Uranium233, which is fissile isotope just like U235, and then subsequently produce heat via ‘conventional’ fission. Without that process occurring in the Thorium there is no possible mechanism that I can envisage that could produce the power claimed.

    I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a bit longer for your atomic V-8 Anthony.

  10. “when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat.”

    this does not make sense … what will power the laser ?

  11. Seems a bit extreme to cart the reactor around with you. Why not use the thorium power in the home to electrolyse water to hydrogen, store the hyrogen in metal tanks (see http://www.horizonfuelcell.com/ – hydrofil) and then you can use it in portable tools, cars, bikes etc etc)?

    You could charge your existing electric car Anthony!

    I am still convinced that hydrogen is the ulitmate portable power source – it’ll just take a bit of time :-).

  12. Screw putting it in my car.
    I’ll take one for my house.
    Keep my lights on for about the next decade.

  13. We won’t see a real one. The Chinese will see a real one.

    The good part: Western countries enslaved to the primitive ooga-booga Earth Goddess will pull out all the stops to blockade the Chinese thorium cars. This will be the first time in several decades they can imagine blocking an import from China, and that’s good. But they’ll be blocking the first Chinese import that we really need, so it will still be pointless and suicidal.

  14. Fantastic.. I want one.

    but this will be the last we see of this then ! as the ‘greens’ don’t really want anything to do with anything that is actually green.

  15. At the end of the main report, it says this:

    “Reza Hashemi-Nezhad, director of the Institute of Nuclear Science at the University of Sydney, Australia, says nuclear power plants already run submarines and could operate oil tankers, “but they are not small enough to fit in the boot (trunk) of a car.”

    Which clearly means the quote is from an expert who doesn’t actually know what he’s being asked about.

    Are all “experts” this arrogant and complaisant with their comments?

  16. Still radioactive though. Petrol (gasoline) and diesel are the best and future reserves will be supplemented by the production of methane, which can be polymerised to petrol or diesel, from rubbish now burried in landfill.

    The UK buries millions of tons of rubbish every year all of which could be used for methane production. A wasted resource.

  17. “…I won’t be able to overhaul the engine myself…”
    The equivalent of 7500 gallons in a car that would normally do 30 miles to the gallon is 225,000 miles.Time to trade in, I think.

  18. Oh dear. Lubos Motl quite reasonably asked “are WUWT readers skeptics or gullible idiots?” about the five votes the article on cold fusion received.
    Personally, I claim we’re skeptics. I didn’t join the chorus of ‘I don’t believe it’ solely because my point had been made many times before. This case is even more spectacularly obvious as a fraud. Did you note that the website claims there are no fission byproducts? Therefore, there is no source for the energy. It claims heat is produced from Thorium’s ‘density’, but that’s at best a simple phase-change which requires as much energy in as comes out. Why would they go through the rigamarole of generating heat to turn it into a laser to generate steam to produce electricity to drive a car?
    There is no sensible reason.
    Once again, I’d love to be proven wrong, but it isn’t going to happen with this scam
    !

  19. “A 250 MW unit weighing about 500 lbs. (227 kg) would be small and light enough to drop under the hood of a car, he says.”

    Anyone know if those figures are correct? 250MW is over 300,000 hp!

  20. It must be a scam. The Thorium fuel cycle generates 232U as a byproduct, hence hard gamma radiation. It is part of the reason stuff hijacked from Thorium reactors can’t be used to build a bomb, making proliferation scare moot.

    I guess no one wants a hard gamma source behind the back seat, neither tons of lead casing for a shield.

    It is feasible however to generate hydrogen by proper Thorium plants and using it to manufacture synthetic fuels. This is the safe and environmentally friendly way to exploit Thorium potential for ordinary vehicles.

    The case of cargo ships is another matter though, they can carry the load of necessary radiation shields easily.

  21. I like, I like.

    I like most that Oz has more Thorium than India, and almost as much as the US. Great riches – coal AND Thorium!

  22. Would there be enough power left over to get a nice exhaust burble?
    That is critical if they wish to sell me.
    (I am assuming it would be standard there is a suitable clunk-factor on door closure.)

  23. Obviously the folks at Wards Auto did not get any useful information and wrote the story accordingly.
    Note the core claim ‘when thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat’. Homer Simpson could not have explained it better.

  24. Thorium232 is not fissile and requires an external neutron to convert it to Th233 which is fissile.
    This does not seem to be a nuclear reaction. See Energy from Thorium website for information about Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors.

  25. a jones says:
    August 13, 2011 at 1:34 am

    [snip - even spelled that way ~jove, mod] And I thought big-time negativity was restricted to the AGW crowd.

  26. If it ever materialises, I might buy one, as long as it had the throaty roar of a 4-stroke V8. A hissing steamy noise just wouldn’t cut it in terms of street cred …

    Pointman

  27. This is pure BS. A huge amount of experimentation has never revealed that altering temperature and pressure (even using lasers and other things with ‘sciencey’ names) has no effect on decay rates.

    Thorium is very stable stuff that must be bred into fissile Uranium using neutron capture to make it into a useful nuclear fuel.

    It is possible to start a chain-reaction in fissile Uranium 235 or Plutonium 239 using vast arrays of lasers the size of stadiums converging on a micro-sphere of fuel thereby increasing the density to increase reactionrate – but last I looked stadiums were not very portable.

  28. This kind of articles definitely reduces WUWT credibility.
    Thorium is not nuclear fuel on its own and by heating it up you get just a block of hot Thorium.
    To get nuclear reaction in it you need to pump neutrons to it first and change it to Uranium 233.
    And I don’t believe anybody would be crazy enough to put such things to automobiles.

  29. Buy stock in tires.
    They’re going to wear out quickly as people tromp on the accelerator to unleash all that power.

    Meanwhile, color me skeptical. I’ll believe it when the used car salesmen are pushing thorium powered vehicles that “were only driven to church on Sundays by a little old lady.”

  30. How does it dispose of all the waste heat? If it generates 250 MW of power, thats about 25000 1 KW room heaters.

  31. Forget the car! My house will be visible from Alpha Centauri if you give me 250MW to use!!! And I’ll be surrounded by waterfalls, elevators, escalators, cable ways, the works…

  32. Anthony: I’d give you 50-to-1 that this is BS, if the question could be decided in a reasonable amount of time. Not for a large sum – I’d put my $100 against your $2. Unfortunately, I don’t think it can be resolved in a reasonable amount of time

    I want to avoid libel here, so let me say that my opinion is nothing but opinion, purely my own, and relatively uninformed, at that.

    Supposedly Stevens’ work is based Carlo Rubbia’s “energy amplifier” idea. I believe that the latter is legitimate, but some of Stevens’ writings don’t seem to have a lot to do with it, and seem to me incoherent with a generous admixture of technical gobbledy-gook.

    I ask myself: Why do I quickly understand Rubbia’s idea but see nothing but headaches in trying to understand Stevens’ writing? I’m not a physicist – far from it! – but I just don’t see the sense in talking about electrons and positrons, as Stevens’ does, when Rubbia was talking about a proton accelerator knocking neutrons out of nuclei. I could say more like that, but since I’m not a scientist, I don’t think it’s my place to do so.

  33. As I recall, the 1960s TV Batmobile was powered by an atomic turbine, that was loaded by the reactor in the Batcave. Jill St John fell into it in one of the first episodes ( the reactor, not the Batmobile ).

    I was just reading that the actual Ford Futura car itself had a gas turbine engine, but only carried enough fuel for 15 seconds of running ! Sounds like a Tesla !

  34. NOT plausible. I am dissapointed someone did not check (enthalpy of water for a steam turbine!)

    Just the volume of water you need for a 250 MW plant is enormous. A 250 MW plant needs about 1-1.5 Billion gallons of water per year for the steam turbine and cooling, depending on thermodymanic efficiency … roughly at least 125,000 gallons per hour… or 2000 gallons per minute. Thats a little under 1/2 acre-foot of water.

    250 MW under the hood of a car is not plausible to me, unless they’ve figured out a new steam turbine, or some other novel way to generate the electricity. Even a natural gas plant (where the gas drives a rotating turbine directly and also has secondary systems to utilize waste heat) sits on 00s of acres.

    If this were true you could power the entire middle atlantic / new england area (eastern seaboard virginia and north), ~200,000 MW peak during summer from 800 car sized engines in a parking lot.

    250 MW? Cold fusion. or a typo

    http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/rwpg/rpgm_rpts/2001483396.pdf

  35. -1 for credibility. This on the heels of Willis ignorant comments in his post about Native Americans. This blog is slipping.

  36. “Now it looks like we might actually see a real one, using Thorium rather than Uranium”

    ROFLMAO

  37. RobL says:
    “This is pure BS. A huge amount of experimentation has never revealed that altering temperature and pressure (even using lasers and other things with ‘sciencey’ names) has no effect on decay rates. ”

    Did someone try magnets? ;-)

  38. The key to the system developed by inventor Charles Stevens, CEO and chairman of Connecticut-based Laser Power Systems, is that when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat.

    Small blocks of thorium generate heat surges that are configured as a thorium-based laser, Stevens tells Ward’s. These create steam from water within mini-turbines, generating electricity to drive a car.

    A 250 MW unit weighing about 500 lbs. (227 kg) would be small and light enough to drop under the hood of a car, he says.

    Molecules of the element thorium? Oh, really.

    http://laserturbinepower.com/

    Thorium as a laser fuel is a natural Alpha & beta emitter and lases very easily. What makes the Phoenix 2000 MaxFelaser systems differs from “reactors” or other lasers is that it is an “EMC” Accelerator driven non-critical reaction stimulating thorium as a Alfa-beta emitter. In nuclear physics, an energy amplifier is a novel type of nuclear power reactor, a subcritical reactor, in which an EMC energetic field is used to stimulate a reaction, which in turn releases enough HEAT energy to flash a working fluid to high temp and presser driving a high speed turbine-generator set. This is the basic working principles of the MaxFelasers. The EMC particle accelerator in the MaxFelaser is an electro magnetic induction coil operating at high frequency to propel the Thorium fuel Matrix to high energy levels and to contain them. The MaxFelaser uses this quantum mechanical properties of an external magnetic field to excite the electrons, the electrons (particles) collide with other particles and are diffracted as light. While an electron is undergoing acceleration, it can absorb or radiate energy in the form of HEAT and photons. It can be annihilated by a collision with a positron, the electron’s antiparticle, or an electron–positron pair can be produced from gamma ray photons with a combined energy at least equal to the energy at rest of the particles. (An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator.) The EMC is a hybrid combination linear and circular accelerator, leaving an energy profit for power generation. The concept has more recently been referred to as an accelerator-driven system ADS-EMC MaxFelaser based on Thorium presents a solution to the global energy crisis and could help ease political tension globally.

    A magic process that sounds like someone to a bunch of words from a physics text and stuck in them in a blender yielding a nonsensical description in terms of physics.

    Two junk pseudo-science articles posted to WUWT in August and the month is not yet half way over.

    How disappointing that WUWT is so determined to undermine it’s own credibility.

    Watt’s up with that?

    Suggest running such alternative energy claims by the physics department at the local university before posting.

  39. I read the article in Wards, It specifically states that the process is sub-critical and does not result in U-235 as a by-product. I’d love for some of our resident engineers to get more information about the process and evaluate it. Of course, the EPA, Department of the Interior and other eco-fascists probably will not let the Thorium be mined.

  40. Simple typo on “250 MW unit”.

    That should have been a lower case M. Corrected

    250 mW unit

    The 250 milliwatt unit produces enough power over its lifetime to get a pissant’s motorcycle halfway around the inside of a Cheerio.

    Did April 1st get delayed to August 13th this year?

    FAIL

  41. Once again I am supprised and disapointed buy the vast majority of posts in this article.

    I have a certificate in Electrical Engineering and have been involved in the Electrical industry for the past 40 years.

    The claim of 250 MW is a total joke and an obvious error that is not worth commenting on.

    A 1 MW diesel electric generator will not fit inside an average house.

    Yet most of the 53 responses are hung up on this single issue.

    I did not see any responses (correct me if I missed one ) saying. ” Hay, you’ve made a mistake in the power output. What is the correct number ? and are you able to substantiate your claim with current research ”

    They make a claim for a working prototype in 2 years. Now while I agree it sounds to good to be true – the proof is in the pudding.

    Science is advancing exponentially and there will be major break throughs in the next few years.

    I believe the world is at a ” tipping point ” that has nothing to do with Warming.

    Too many people are looking at alternative energy sources and something will be found.

    Look at the past. What makes you think we are at the top.

  42. I would pretty much agree with Smoking Frog. The writings do indeed appear to be gobbledygook. I came away with the distinct impression that they had been produced by a Markov chain random text generator that had been trained on a bunch of physics and engineering reports. :-)

    If you look at the Wikipedia article about spallation, you can come away with the idea that lasers could be used to produce neutrons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spallation — but that’s due to the poor organization and lack of depth of the article, not any actual physical process. Laser spallation produces dust, not neutrons. There are some experiments underway about accelerator-driven reactors with “tiny” accelerators, but tiny in this context that means ones the size of a small house instead of a small town.

  43. Anthony,
    Thank you for bringing back memories of my youth. I remember articles like this in True Magazine and Popular Science.

    .Seriously, I do enjoy these diversions.

    Beside, these articles are no more nonsensical that the usual left wing apocalyptic fantasies carried as “news” by the “main stream media”. Except here the Gentle Reader can point out the fallacies.

    Thanks again for all that you do!
    Steamboat Jack (Jon Jewett’s evil twin)

    PS,
    In regards to the horsepower for an Aircraft Carrier. The practical upper limit for horsepower applied to a propeller is around 60,000. An Aircraft Carrier typically has four propellers so will use energy at a rate of 240,000 horsepower. At 746 watts/horsepower, the 500 lb. power unit noted in the article would not quite power an aircraft carrier as auxiliary loads such as the steam catapults take considerable energy. Perhaps they meant milliwatts instead of megawatts?

  44. I read through the Wards article and it’s a bizarre collection it’s fission/it’s not fission. For example – “Stevens agrees, emphasizing his system is “subcritical.” This means no nuclear reaction occurs within the thorium. It remains in the same state and is not turned into uranium 233.” Subcritical implies nuclear reaction s are going on, it just that the feedback is less than one. Nuclear power plants run at a ratio of 1.000.

    I chased web leads for Jim Hedrick to Hedrick Consultants Inc in Virginia but didn’t find an Email address for him. At least he is real, did work for the USGS, and is a rare earths expert. Anyone know him?

    “It is said that 1 gram of thorium produces the equivalent energy of 7,500 gallons of gasoline.” That turns out to be 17 MWh. I had hoped it would be 250 MWh, and be a clue where that bogus 250 MW figure (and unit) came from. Hmm, 8gm – 139 MWh. Not close enough.

    The note “thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat” is interesting because I read something about density changes. It turns out that was for Plutonium, which has three allotropes and different density which makes machining it difficult. (Not to mention it’s flammable and you really don’t want to inhale the smoke).

    I was thinking he may want to use power from phase changes. People used to split granite slabs by drilling holes, filling them with water, and wait for winter’s cold to freeze the water. The expansion would be enough to crack the granite.

    Unfortunately, a large force over a small distance is not much energy, and increasing density means shrinking, and that’s tougher to get energy from. All in all, it hard to give this guy a benefit of the doubt. Motl would be much harsher. The law of thermodynamics still apply, I see no way this can work without fission being the ultimate energy source. In fact, if you leave the car body out of this and replace the transmission with an electrical generator that powers the laser, then presto – perpetual motion device.

    The reason I wrote my first post on the Rossi reactor was because there was a public demonstration that produced enough energy that it would be difficult to fake. I won’t follow this until there is a similar demonstration.

  45. Her are yet two more reasons this screams “scam”.

    1 ) “when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source … Thorium has highest melting point of all oxides at 3,182° F.”

    Only a charlatan would describe a processes using METALLIC thorium, but then hype the properties of thorium oxide.

    2) “admitting that developing a portable and usable turbine and generator is proving to be a tougher task than the laser-thorium unit.”
    Turbines and generators have been commercially available for 100+ years! If the technology really worked, the inventors would have started using it for small-to-mid scale stationary energy generation using off-the-shelf componenets, rather than hyping a rather impractical initial use like cars.

    My opinion — this is 99.999 % scam.

  46. Correction: will it blend?

    A magic process that sounds like someone took a bunch of words from a physics text and stuck in them in a blender yielding a nonsensical description in terms of basic physics.

  47. A few thoughts on this new technology-

    1. Is the original source of this article, Ward’s Auto, owned by The Onion?
    2. Whenever phrases like ‘thorium-based LASER’ show up, you are being scammed or entertained (cf Dr. Evil).
    3. A 250MW power unit that weighs 500 pounds has the same credibility as power generation technology invented by Capt. Nemo.
    4. “Jim Hedrick, a specialist on industrial minerals…” “Powered by Heavy-Metal Thorium”.
    Is the correct spelling of the last name Hendrix?
    5. An appropriate acronym that applies to these types of breakthrough ‘technologies’ is FM- Fricking Magic.

  48. This will be the world’s first car with the famous 200mpg carburetor.

    If this were really feasible, the first application wouldn’t be cars, sensible and needed as much as it is, but stationary power production. It would revolutionize 3rd world energy….which is precisely why it won’t happen, even if true.

    The major oil companies, power producers and vendor/suppliers won’t permit it, and it will be blocked by endless environmental, health, and safety questions. Don’t believe for a moment that I wouldn’t buy the power plant alone to stick in my garage and unplug the grid…if it’s that good.

    I truly hope this is a viable power source…and economically feasible. But there’s too many red flags popping up….and so far this isn’t passing my smell test, scientifically or otherwise. The company has 40 employees and works in the garage. Ford and Toyota have what kind of resources to throw at it?? Never mind that this would revolutionize military vehicles and tactical support.

  49. “when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat.”

    Is this accurate? I’ve never known heat to increase density.

  50. Her are yet two more reasons this screams “scam”.

    1 ) “when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source … Thorium has highest melting point of all oxides at 3,182° F.”

    Only a charlatan would describe a processes using METALLIC thorium, but then hype the properties of thorium oxide.

    2) “admitting that developing a portable and usable turbine and generator is proving to be a tougher task than the laser-thorium unit.”
    Turbines and generators have been commercially available for 100+ years! If the technology really worked, the inventors would have started using it for small-to-mid scale stationary energy generation using off-the-shelf componenets, rather than hyping a rather impractical initial use like cars.

    My opinion — this is 99.999 % scam. But at least I got a good laugh this morning.

  51. A long time ago I had a dream where everyone had a reactor under their house. That might have been triggered by a vaguely remembered news item about some natural deposits of radioactive materials being so rich that they were, in effect, natural reactors. Of course, that could have been part of the dream also.

  52. “Because thorium is so dense, similar to uranium, it stores considerable potential energy: 1 gm of thorium equals the energy of 7,500 gallons (28,391 L) of gasoline”

    ======

    1,000,000,000 btu per gram? I think this makes the non-nuclear energy available from Thorium something like 1000 times as high as that from TNT. Just wait ’til “they” weaponize this. (I’m not always real good with big numbers so I might be off by a factor of 10 in either direction)

    Needless to say, this sounds like a scam.

  53. Could it be that the thorium is compressed via a shock wave induced when its surface ablates in response to the laser? Such phenomenon is being commercially exploited on other materials…

  54. “The key to the system developed by inventor Charles Stevens, CEO and chairman of Connecticut-based Laser Power Systems, is that when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat.”

    I have never heard of this effect before. Does it have a name? Surely if someone came up with such a prosess there would be a nobel prize in physics for it.

    I dont believe in this. Nope, sorry.

  55. My question is the cost. This thing can presumably be made practical, but at what price? The problem with having a submarine in every seaside back yard right now isn’t just the size and the staffing, but the astronomical cost to produce it in the first place. Otherwise, wouldn’t all your rich friends have one already?

  56. kwik says:
    –“I have never heard of this effect before. Does it have a name? Surely if someone came up with such a prosess there would be a nobel prize in physics for it.”

    I’m familiar with a similar effect. When investors are heated up, they become more dense and give off money.

  57. I’m a nuclear engineer analyzing different nuclear fuel cycle options. The article is nonsense. Nuclear reactors require fissile isotopes to get started. There is one fissile isotope in nature, U-235, which is only 0.7% of natural uranium. There are two fertile isotopes in nature, U-238 (99.3% of uranium) and thorium-232 (100% of thorium). So, virtually all nuclear fuel cycles make some U-238 into fissile Pu-239 or Th-232 into fissile U-233 – some of which fissions in situ and some is in used fuel, ready to be recycled. If you make Pu-239 or U-233 and stupidly throw it away, you increase the hazard relative to natural ores, and waste natural resources. High purity Pu-239 or U-233 or U-235 can make a weapon. Th/U-233 fuel cycles aren’t fundamentally better or worse than U/Pu-239 fuel cycles. Hold your wallet around anyone who tells you otherwise.

  58. Spector says: August 13, 2011 at 7:01 am

    A long time ago I had a dream where everyone had a reactor under their house. That might have been triggered by a vaguely remembered news item about some natural deposits of radioactive materials being so rich that they were, in effect, natural reactors. Of course, that could have been part of the dream also.
    ******************************
    Actually, it wasn’t a dream. The French developed a Uranium mine in Gabon. To make reactor fuel, the naturally occurring Uranium is “enriched” by separating the U-235 and U-238. (A difficult task!) so that the ratio of U-235 to U-238 can be increased from 0.7% : 99.3% to around 4.0% : 96% to be used in a large, light water moderated, power reactor. (U-235 is “useful”; U-238, not so much. It’s a long story.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enriched_uranium

    Much to their chagrin, the French found that the percentage of U-235 was LESS than 0.7%. And, analysis found fission products that are NOT naturally occurring. Their estimation is that conditions were just right for a low-level chain reaction. It was self-regulating in that as the ground water warmed up, it would expand/boil. Since the moderator was now less dense, the reaction would “turn” i.e.slow down. Neat. Well at least to an engineer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_nuclear_fission_reactor

    Regards,
    Steamboat Jack (Jon Jewett’s evil twin)

  59. Spector, it wasn’t a dream. Check out the Oklo natural reactor. But it was 2 billion years ago and only about 100 kW.

  60. Just one phrase:
    “. . when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat.”
    establishes the fact that the whole idea is fraudulent.

  61. Hey, lighten up everybody, it is a fun diversion, thinking about a 250 MWh car even if it is a rediculus notion. We’ll be hashing climate sensitivity for years to come so why not a fun post now and then?
    As for me, I’d have my own parking space in town and the local elders would say, “doing some shopping today eh, Mr. Grant? Well take your time. How bout a long lunch and show today? It’s on us.” And as I walk away from my thorium mobile, two guys in overalls with giant jumper cables are hooking it up to the grid. As I walk through the town square I notice the fountain is really running great today!

  62. Kevin says-
    “Is this accurate? I’ve never known heat to increase density.”

    Apply heat to the solid form of the greenhouse chemical, respiratory hazard, poison (in sufficient dose), main component of acid rain and environmental toxin dihydrogen monoxide. As one applies heat and it transitions from the hazardous solid phase to the toxic liquid phase, the density increases, reaching a maximum at +4C.

  63. One very striking fact is coming from this article and the resulting comments.

    Over at RealClimate, you’re squelched for expressing an opposing view. Here, quite to the contrary, opposing views, even mocking views, are being moderated and ALLOWED.

    That’s what makes this such a great blog.

  64. I know, I know, but in my fantasy I’m the only guy that has one.
    Remember Moller’s flying car? Still at it btw, http://www.moller.com. Got to admit the idea of it was fun to think about. It’s why we all loved Popular Science as kids.
    These posts and comments are really quite educational. Got to admit I was a little taken aback by the whole native American post, definitely for another blog, but this is my favorite blog, Anthony. So just keep on doing what your doing cause the proof is in the pudding. Giving you advice is Kind of like people who tell Rush Limbaugh he’s doing it all wrong.

  65. @Bomber
    “Surely this is nonsense”

    Not necessarily (though probably).
    If the Thorium is undergoing fission, then conservation of energy is OK as matter is converted to energy.

    That said, it is certainly a long shot that anything usable will be available any time soon.

  66. Typhoon says:
    August 13, 2011 at 5:34 am

    The key to the system developed by inventor Charles Stevens, CEO and chairman of Connecticut-based Laser Power Systems, is that when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat.

    http://laserturbinepower.com/

    Thorium as a laser fuel is a natural Alpha & beta emitter and lases very easily. What makes the Phoenix 2000 MaxFelaser systems differs from “reactors” or other lasers is that it is an “EMC” Accelerator driven non-critical reaction stimulating thorium as a Alfa-beta emitter.

    Alfa-beta emitter? Perhaps the reactor fits in an Alfa-Romeo. I wonder what acceleration 250 MW would give an Alfa. Bet it’s more than 1 g. :-) Perhaps Ward’s Auto shouldn’t write about nuclear physics and anything more than 50 kW. Stick to Alfas, not alphas!

    I hadn’t seen laserturbinepower.com, but I see at the bottom “created by Charles Stevens.” That inspired me to check out http://laserpowersystems.com (which says at the bottom “created by CHS”). Neither seem to have anything about laser driven thorium energy powering cars, but there is quite a bit about thorium nuclear energy.

    _____

    Small blocks of thorium generate heat surges that are configured as a thorium-based laser, Stevens tells Ward’s. These create steam from water within mini-turbines, generating electricity to drive a car.

    Ah yes, heat surges. Perhaps the 250 MW is power output during a surge. If 25 kW is reasonable average power for an accelerating car (I forget a realistic number, but this is close enough), then if a surge lasts 100 usec with recovery for the rest of a second, then that averages out to 25 kW. So, all that’s left is to deal with those pesky laws of thermodynamics and everything else.

  67. Claims appear to be spurious; not even in the same class as the Rossi device.

    Wish the man well with his ‘invention’ and move on. If/when he ‘straightens’ things out perhaps it would be worth the time revisiting …

    Meanwhile many ppl may castigate Anthony for running this type of article (and we all know that RC would never DARE approach such material) this actually provides an opportunity to share a few common sense ‘tools’ or methodologies that the layman can begin to use to debunk any new, seemingly off-the-mark device or theory, to wit, Don Lancaster’s common sense and practical publication and prescription on:

    “How to Bash Pseudoscience”

    Just a few excerpts – He starts out by stating “I personally am proud to have what many would call a classic engineering background with real degrees from real schools and a breadth of hard earned real experiences including Industrial, aerospace, self-directed, and educational” and as a result he very strongly believes that:

    • The scientific method works, a method in which you propose a falsifiable theory, test that theory, then invite others to independently attack it.

    • Those [the] laws of thermodynamics reverify themselves on countless occasions each and every day. These laws are (1) you can’t win; (2) you can’t break even, and (3) if you play the game, you are sure to lose.

    • Each field has its secret insider gotchas. These are certain to cause major grief to the casual inquirer. Accurately measuring RMS power or doing low Dt calorimetry are two obvious examples.

    • Most labwork ends up dead wrong. Either by not measuring what you think it does. Or easily getting misinterpreted, leading to wrong conclusions.

    • An hour in the library is worth a month in the lab. Science and engineering progress by building upon the collective results of what has gone before.

    • A single source for any theory or claim will always be highly suspect. Always seek major backup.

    • “Too good to be true” results always are. Should they occur, you must spend monumental time and effort in conclusively proving yourself wrong.

    • Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. Such evidence is always an obligation upon those making the claims, not on those challenging. And most especially that…

    • Finding a source of ” Unlimited free energy” would be the most unimaginably heinous crime possible against humanity. For it would inevitably turn the planet into a cinder. Hastening an isoentropic heat death. If you find a free energy source, you damn well better find a new free energy sink as well. Even then, the relative flux rates will still nail you.

    [Most of] The usual causes of pseudoscience fantasies (Note the plethora of YouTube vids for instance about self-running Bedeni Motors or other ‘over unity’ energy claims) include:

    • labwork so mesmerizingly awful that it is not even wrong. This one gets them nearly every time.

    • Not having even the faintest clue as to what a true scientific experiment, correct measurement, decent documentation, and realistic interpretation is.

    • A failure to think cyclically or to look at whole systems. The “power stroke” from repelling magnets is obvious, but the extra energy it took to get the magnets there in the first place might not be.

    • A lack of appreciation for engineering economics. Economics that must take into account efficiencies, alternatives, infrastructure, and total costs.

    • Dragging along unreleated excess baggage. In the way of paranoia, odd religions, conspiracies, obtuse verbosity, suppression fears, or nonstandard terms.

    • Giving vastly more credibility to a Keelynet file or an anonymous newsgroup post than a mainstream textbook or a properly peer reviewed article in a respected scientific journal.

    • The failure to thoroughly research what has gone before and then to carefully build upon it.

    • Extreme hubris that fails to recognize the lifetime commitments that untold thousands of scientists and engineers have made. Like it or not, at least some of these people are rocket scientists. They are a lot smarter than you are. And, of course…

    • Sleeping through all those Physics 101 lectures. Or skipping the course entirely.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Much more at the link posted above …

    .

  68. Basic question here (the Thorium car is a futuristic idea – nuf said). Is there any information about potential hazards? Mercury is one of those metals that only historically recently came under scrutiny as a human hazard. Absorbed through the skin or ingested, Mercury does a number of bad things. Thorium, being a rare metal, may not be hazardous until it is concentrated, like Mercury. What is known about it when humans are exposed to more concentrated forms (and I am not talking about radiation sickness here)? Birth defects? Brain toxicities? Tumors? Other organ damage?

  69. I suspect that the weight of the lead, steel, and concrete required to adequately contain the radioactivity from Thorium fission would make the car just a bit too….er…. heavy. Zero – to 60 speeds would be measured in minutes, not seconds. Turning a corner will abrade the tires and create short tire life and much black soot from tire material. And stopping that colossus will take brakes the size of the Empire State Building. The brake dust produced will coat the roadways, block the adjacent homes’ air conditioners, and cause serious lung/breathing problems. Stopping the monstrosity in a timely manner, to avoid a collision will likely be difficult if not impossible.

    Also, water-steam-turbine-generator-electric motor is a VERY heavy combination. It also has serious drawbacks when mounted on a moving platform. Going up a hill, down a hill, turning a corner, creates some problems (havoc?) with such a system. The water tends to slosh around, to put it mildly. Where water appears in pulses, and steam flow is therefore erratic, a steam turbine just falls apart rapidly.

    Water leaks from such a system. Steam does, too. Therefore, the car is required to periodically fill up with water. And, not just the tap water from any old faucet. This water must be purified to the n-th degree — just like in a steam power plant and a nuclear power plant This is incredibly expensive water. Just ask any power plant operator what his water costs are.

    Another issue: running this thing in the winter. Water freezes. That must be considered and a proper design prepared and built into the system so that every part that is in contact with water is heated and insulated. Steam locomotives have had this problem for decades, if not centuries.

    And finally, what happens to one of these nuclear-radiating-colossus behemoths when it does have a wreck? Does the radioactive substance remain intact, sealed, and not spewing deadly radiation over everyone for miles around? Even if the fissile material is contained, what about the water and other fluids that are also radioactive, after they get splashed around after a wreck?

    How many three-eyed children must the world endure before this nuclear madness stops?

    Gotta love those nuclear advocates. Nuclear at any cost – who gives a damn about health, or radiation, or any other adverse consequences. Not to mention the engineering hurdles.

  70. Perhaps of interest: Laser Power Systems – Charles Stevens:

    http://www.frantechusa.com/img/ECONOMIC_DEVELOPMENT2009.ppt

    One will need MS PowerPoint or MC PPT viewer (or equiv) to open the above.

    From slide #28:

    THE REPLACMENT TECHNOLOGY FOR THE INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE

    – The laser turbine power system is “ZERO EMISSIONS” totally green.

    – It is a closed loop ranken cycle steam turbine driving a High Speed Induction Generator developed for the U.S. Air Force WPAFB, this is a 200 kW, 62,000 RPM generator using induction technology to provide a compact, efficient generator system for stable and safe operation .The controller design is based on field orientation for fast response to transient load changes. The DSP-based control system is flexible and optimizes the generator performance.

    – The turbine/generator is a new Hybrid design. The high-speed turbine/generator set on a signal shaft (No gears) with oil free “GAS FOIL BEARINGS”. Foil bearings are self-generating, compliant hydrodynamics bearings. The compliant foils conform to the shape of the mating rotating shaft. During operation the shaft is supported on a thin film of self generated cushion of air (or gas). These bearings have demonstrated high load carrying capacity and good stability characteristics. A pair of foil journal bearings provides radial support and a pair of foil thrust bearings provides axial support.

    – The electric “drive motors” will be provided by KLD Energy Technologies high-performance electric motor systems. The company’s cornerstone technology is a high-frequency, low RPM, transmission less motor system that increases the speed and efficiency of electric vehicles are of a new high torque design that is a Direct Drive “No Gears”. High Torque Density Traction Motor.

    .

  71. But, but, they have such a beautiful web site. All the pages at http://laserturbinepower.com/ allow you, actually they require you, to scroll both horizontally and vertically so you can read the entire page, each containing a wide variety of totally irrelevant material. Even the page titled “Investments” talks about other companies that are presumably gainfully involved in thorium, not about his company.

    His page at http://www.linkedin.com/in/laserturbinepower admits to his previous folly (ripoff?) at Helyxzion. See http://help-cure-disease-now.blogspot.com/

    If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, rest assured it’s a quack.

  72. So many misconceptions, where do I start?

    First people seem to think that sub critical means no fission is occurring. There are three states of critical:

    Super-critical: more neutrons are being produced from fission, than the previous generation. In practice this means reactor power will be increasing (exponentially).

    Critical: neutrons being produce equal the neutrons required for fissioning, at the present rate. In practice this means reactor power is holding at current rate, hence power is steady.

    Sub-critical: neutron production has decreased below the current fission rate and power will decrease until it becomes critical again.

    Note criticality has nothing to do with total power output, but describes the direction of the neutron rate (hence – fission rate – hence – power rate).

    How does it dispose of all the waste heat? If it generates 250 MW of power, thats about 25000 1 KW room heaters.

    OR a 1kw room heater which outputs for 25000 hrs.

    Why does everyone assume a instantaneous power output? Even though, the time unit was dropped from the rating, why does everyone jump to the more ridiculous interpretation of instantaneous power??

    Come on people, we are better than this!

    Does this idea have merit. I don’t have a #%$* clue, as there is not enough technically correct information, to form a working model, in my imagination. GK

  73. This sounds a lot like the halfnium battery discussed a few years back. The only way the above description makes any sense would be if the metal thorium described is in a state that stores energy when released by heating, that heating being the catalytic boost necessary to allow the phase change to occur. Then the thorium would have to be remade, taking power from some other source. In other words, it would be a type of battery. The description is that of a katabatic-like heat release from a phase change, not fission power.

  74. Major fail for everybody who

    a.) took this seriously

    or

    b.) thought Anthony took this seriously.

    This is what is known as a detector of the anally retentive.

  75. Maybe there should be a poll to see if readers think that Low Energy Nuclear Reaction lies should be repeated here.

    I feel like it is at best a distraction and at worst is a way for alarmists to mock this site.

  76. If simply heating Thorium produced energy it would already be in widespread use in large scale power generation. Also, the first thing it would heat would be itself, producing more heat [loop].

    Everything I have read about thorium suggests it needs a source of neutrons to produce energy. Consequently I vote with the ‘this is garbage’ element.

    PS. Some people suggested that publishing an article like this on WUWT implies approval – this is not the case – there are many examples of provocative articles included for discussion/comment.

  77. The problem is not generating heat energy from radioactivity.
    The problem is dealing with a >steam car< (even just in a generator loop).
    The Stanley Steamers died out in the early 20th for a reason and both Howard Hughes and Bill Lear and others found out that dealing with steam is finicky, dangerous and a PITA.

    (My Dad was an engineer and steam buff and we spent many years going to steam equipment shows in the Midwest)

  78. Anyone who doubts this is seriously disturbed. Thorium is derived (inexpensively and easily) from Unobtanium (a previously unknown element made famous by the movie Avatar). Once derived, the Thorium simultaneously powers the laser that generates the power. This “closed circuit” technology is as old as Benjamin Franklin and can be easily adapted for modern applications. All you nattering nabobs of negativism should go back to school and learn the new math. You are the same people who doubt global warming, Keynesian economic models, and Sham Wow.

    Finally, what’s with the MW/KW concerns? A Billion, a Trillion . . . tomato . . . tomahhhhto? Try to keep up with modern science.

  79. Here is what appears to be a rather informed talk on Thorium based reactors:

    Energy From Thorium: A Nuclear Waste Burning Liquid Salt Thorium Reactor
    Kirk Sorensen’s Tech Talk, delivered at Google on July 20, 2009.
    385 likes, 6 dislikes 51,455 views (time 1:22:08)
    “Successfully developing a liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) would essentially solve our planets energy problems for thousands of years, because it would allow us to fully utilize the energy in natural thorium, which makes up 0.0012% of the Earths crust. Most of the research and development work for this technology was done by Oak Ridge National Labs back in the 50s and 60s. They were working to a different set of overall objectives, nevertheless, there are many lessons to be gleaned from their work that can help us to avoid pitfalls and develop LFTR into a high-performance, high-reliability power supply.”

  80. I remain puzzled by ‘molecules’ of Thorium. Thorium is a metal, right? Metals are formed of a lattice of metal positive ions with free flowing electron ‘clouds’ throughout the lattice – hence the electrical (and thermal) conductivity of metals in general.

    Re steam power – assuming there’s more to this then I assume they will use turbines not pistons to generate the electricity with the steam condensed back to water in a closed system – not unlike that used in a nuclear submarine.

  81. Jason Joice M.D. said on August 8, 2011 at 8:02 pm at the “Climate and Early Asian Immigrants” post:

    I’m just going to let this one go. Someone who has no clue about US history in regards to their fighting and signing treaties with the “Indians” isn’t going to alter my opinion of this amazing blog site.

    Now Jason Joice M.D. says on August 13, 2011 at 5:16 am:

    -1 for credibility. This on the heels of Willis ignorant comments in his post about Native Americans. This blog is slipping.

    Doesn’t seem like “letting it go” to me. I will note it took this post along with Mr Eschenbach’s post to change your opinion about this blog, which Willis’ post alone didn’t do. Thus this must be an exceptionally crappy post that’s really pulling down the site average.

  82. At least George Barris’ creation (Batmobile) was real! The Thormobile, not so much! One can almost hear the “ZIF!” “POW” “BAM” while digesting the article. LOL Anthony!

    PS — Anyone still remembering George Barris is WAY over the hill!!

  83. I’m calling it complete B.S. and 100% SCAM!

    If anyone remotely believes this is feasible then they might like to invest in a product that I’m developing. With just a few million dollars of development capital I should soon be able to market my weightless and invisible super fuel additive tablet that I promise will increase your fuel mileage up to 100 million times. Visit,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, http://WWW.I‘m_A_Sucker.com for additional info!

    As Kenny Rogers says,, “KNOW WHEN TO HOLD THEM, KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ‘EM”

  84. vboring says August 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Maybe there should be a poll to see if readers think that Low Energy Nuclear Reaction lies should be repeated here.

    Really!?

    Maybe we all just need to ‘up’ our games as far as our ‘lab work’ (preventing or accounting for contamination; after all, if experiments indicate why do others/you filibuster)?

    Or does the LENR fairy just arbitrarily contaminate controlled experiments to the ‘positive’?

    I ask this seriously …

    .

  85. “I’ve never known heat to increase density.”
    There are substances with a negative thermal expansion coefficient. Water below 3.9°C is one.

  86. Jan says:
    August 13, 2011 at 1:36 am

    250 MW? that’s about 300,000 hp. Makes me doubt the seriousness of the whole article.

    Exactly – But that is precisely what I always DIDN’T like about metric stuff – if you misplaced a decimal point, you didn’t always realize it. On a test, for some reason you’d still get some credit if your significant figures were right – but NO! That is a BIG error! MW vs KW? No small thing. But in an article for publication? Whoa! Big time embarrassment!

    I mean who knows intrinsically the difference between 5,000 kilopascals and 50,000 kilopascals? (That is pressure, BTW, and is roughly 750 psi and 7,500 psi – a BIG difference.) Would YOU recognize it if you were wrong? Ergs, dynes, gauss, newtons – I STILL don’t know if any of them is bigger than a bread box. (I don’t think any are…) For my money, give me HP, PSI, LB, OZ, FT and IN. Okay, liters and meters I am okay with – but I still have to pause and think about them.

    So, MW or KW, it’s only a few zeros, right? (No)

  87. Anthony, thanks for the laugh. But shouldn’t this have been a Friday Funny?

    How about doing time travel next?

  88. Dave says:
    “Could it be that the thorium is compressed via a shock wave induced when its surface ablates in response to the laser? Such phenomenon is being commercially exploited on other materials…”

    All we have to do is figure out how to ‘lase’ the atoms of some element – say iron – and then we could ‘cold’ weld two rods together by simply intersecting one rod with the other while they are mutually out of phase with each other, and then discontinue their ‘lasing’ so that the atoms return to their normal random states.

  89. I believe the carnot efficiency limits the performance of an automobile based on a heat source, rather than a battery or an internal combustion engine. The temperature of a nuclear reaction with a purely thermal output must be limited to the thermal properties of the coolant, which means that for any mechanical power output, a lot of waste heat is generated, which needs to be disposed of. Nuclear cars based on a heat source with a working fluid would seem to be extremely limited in potential.

    I sometimes contemplate this as I do my gym treadmill exercise. Assuming I am 30 percent efficient, and my temperature is 38 degrees C, then somewhere in my body there is a process whose peak temperature is 170 degrees C generating that power.

  90. Assuming that 250 megawatts in a 500 pound power plant is a typo and it’s supposed to be 250 kilowatts that’s still a very respectable power to weight ratio of 0.66 horsepower per pound.

    The venerable Lycoming O-360 family of aircraft power plants, probably the most common piston aircraft engine in the world, has a power-to-weight ratio of 0.60-0.64 horsepower per pound. Given the “thorium” motor would practically never need refueling it would be able to stay aloft indefinitely. It could circle the globe many times without ever landing.

    Ya think that’s more than a wild fantasy? Really?

  91. For those who dismiss the idea that “heating” a fissionable source can’t give off energy, we should be reminded that this is basically how a nuclear bomb works. When external explosives compress fissile material through shock waves, it sustains a chain reaction because the material becomes denser. Maybe their idea is to use a laser to both generate neutrons and created a pressure shock wave to create a subcritical mass, which produces large pulses of heat though conventional neutron-generated fission.

    This engine will kind of make you think twice before stomping on the gas.

  92. Just for reference, One of the later proposed methods of accomplishing Fusion Power is called “Inertial Confinement” which sounds similar to what was proposed here with thorium. This is from the Wikepedia:

    “Inertial confinement fusion (ICF) is a process where nuclear fusion reactions are initiated by heating and compressing a fuel target, typically in the form of a pellet that most often contains a mixture of deuterium and tritium.

    “To compress and heat the fuel, energy is delivered to the outer layer of the target using high-energy beams of laser light, electrons or ions, although for a variety of reasons, almost all ICF devices to date have used lasers.”

    It is my understanding that this method has yet to produce more energy than that required to compress the pellets.

  93. Thanks kadaka (KD Knoebel) says: August 13, 2011 at 1:11 pm
    Eloquently stated.

    This is quoting the words (as Willis requests) Hey-how much thorium you got under your hood

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book recently, John Frawley, ‘A Surgical Life- dreaming things that never were

    The attention Dr Frawley in his life career, of building on previous research, possibly early galvinism and as so beautifully described in his book, followed upon one remarkable scientist.

    Reading A Surgical Life is an illuminating example of good science and celebration of exactly the opposite of _Jim says: August 13, 2011 at 9:16 am
    • The failure to thoroughly research what has gone before and then to carefully build upon it.

    http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=128

    Thank you for posting the article Anthony, I learned much reading this. As always :)

    for John Barrett says: August 13, 2011 at 4:41 am and John in NZ says:
    August 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm
    pinched from Pajamas Media link, below with reference to hood

  94. I don’t think fission fuel heats up because it becomes denser. Rather the neutrons emitted by natural decay tend to strike other nucleii causing more neutrons to be emitted, and if a particular geometric arrangement occurs so that each neutron generates more than one neutron a positive feedback chain reaction results. This positive feedback for a bomb is so rapid that explosives must be used to generate the required geometric arrangement, otherwise the fuel will fly apart and only a whimper will result.

    However it is easy to envisage nuclear energy generating enough power for a car. The problems lie in the transmission of that power to the wheels.

  95. “Is this accurate? I’ve never known heat to increase density.”

    Off topic: I remember reading in a science mag about how scientists had invented a complex molecule that did just that. Normally cold makes matter shrink and heat makes matter expand. But they way they laid it out used hinge-type motion to force it smaller.

  96. Jessie says on August 13, 2011 at 7:27 pm


    I thoroughly enjoyed this book recently, John Frawley, ‘A Surgical Life- dreaming things that never were‘

    The attention Dr Frawley in his life career, of building on previous research, possibly early galvinism and as so beautifully described in his book, followed upon one remarkable scientist.

    Reading ‘A Surgical Life’ is an illuminating example of good science and celebration of exactly the opposite of _Jim says: August 13, 2011 at 9:16 am

    • The failure to thoroughly research what has gone before and then to carefully build upon it.

    Yes, a consistency … good science builds on prior work … correct (just to be clear)?

    (IOW, it is the pseudo-scien that ‘fail to research’, unlike Dr. Frawley as per your post who did ‘build on previous research’. Note, too, I excerpted those words from a work by author Don Lancaster; I am ‘building on the previous work of another’ …)

    .

  97. I just got back from my survey trip. I guess nobody got the satire in my last sentence. Even Lubos missed it.

  98. _Jim says: August 13, 2011 at 8:05 pm
    Correct,
    a consistency … good science builds on prior work … correct (just to be clear)?

    Yes, that statement is correct _Jim, and in relation to Dr Frawley’ work in vascular surgery and transplants.

    Though serendipiditious moments can occur which may lead to new discoveries in science? Presumably when the person is schooled in the scientific method and can check that serendipitious observation [moment] step by step? And then disseminate or publish such. Madame Curie being one eg I expect.

    Anthony
    Brian Haskell says: August 13, 2011 at 12:52 pm
    Didn’t Brian with unobtainium get your satire?

  99. I think the primary argument against using nuclear power in transport is that every major collision becomes a mini-Fukushima event with a full Hazmat response required. A better option would be to use fixed power station sites that would either produce electricity for electric vehicles or provide power for the production of an artificial gasoline equivalent in one form or another. The latter would be required for aircraft.

    MW/KW It is interesting to note that when you hear a radio station announce that they are broadcasting 50,000 watts of clear power they are saying, in effect, that they have a 67 horsepower signal.

  100. Even though they cant make a fissile weapon I think thorium could be used by terrorists. If this whole idea isnt some venture capitalist honey trap, surely terrorists could make a radiation problem in a public place with the engine from this unlikely vehicle by just removing any radiation shielding and turning the key to start the reaction?

  101. G. Karst said:
    August 13, 2011 at 10:40 am

    “OR a 1kw room heater which outputs for 25000 hrs.

    Why does everyone assume a instantaneous power output? Even though, the time unit was dropped from the rating, why does everyone jump to the more ridiculous interpretation of instantaneous power??”

    I agree, as I write this, your reply seemed to be the only one that mentioned this possible source of confusion

    When I read Anthony’s original post and saw the 250 MW claim, I knew instantly that this was either a typo, miscalculation, or possibly confusion created by incomplete expression of engineering units.

    After considering the possibility of KW verses MW, I dismissed that, because it would still put the vehicle at the higher end of the range of conventional vehicle power units. Since no time units were given, I wondered if it might be an annual, or life of plant estimate, as is often presented in press releases by wind, solar or “green”[sic] technology promoters.

    I don’t have a ready reference for heating value of the gasoline and corn squeezin’ mix (gasoshine?) we put in our cars, but I was able to estimate that it should have in the range of 100,000 to 130,000 Btu/gal. So, using a heating value of 115,000 Btu/gal, 7,500 gallons of gasoshine releases about 863 million Btu.

    Now the question is; how many megawatts is that. By definition, a Btu is about 1054.8 Joules, and a Watt is 1 Joule per second. So if we release 8.63 E8 Btu’s, we would release about 910 gigaoules. If we were to do that in one second, we would be releasing 910 GW. Perhaps sensationalism wasn’t the goal, since the claim is only 250 MW. But, if we were to release the 910 GJ over the course of an hour, we would release about 253 MW. So, I think the 250 MW should have been expressed in either joules, or as 250 MWht (megawatt-hours, thermal), over the life of the gram of thorium. The power output of the nukemobile’s motor is unknown.

    Still, if there is a way to induce and control slow fission of the atoms in a gram thorium with a laser, so as to supply enough useful heat to drive a Carnot cycle, or any other heat-to-power cycle, on a scale adequate to power a car we;; enough to keep up with traffic; that would be cool. Imagine pulling up next to to a Prius, in one of those.

    And, even if the heat to power conversion were only 20% as efficient as an internal combustion engine, and only 25% of the gram of thorium were useful, there will probably be a demand for new public restrooms, since fill-ups will be more than 10 K miles apart.

    Hopefully China or India will be building them soon, so we can get on a waiting list for a used one, because here in the US, we just won’t have the energy..

  102. Correction: well, not we;;

    Still, if there is a way to induce and control slow fission of the atoms in a gram thorium with a laser, so as to supply enough useful heat to drive a Carnot cycle, or any other heat-to-power cycle, on a scale adequate to power a car well enough to keep up with traffic; that would be cool. Imagine pulling up next to to a Prius, in one of those.

  103. Anthony;
    And you’re so insistent that commenters use sarc/ /sarc tags to avoid unnecessary flame wars! (As opposed, of course, to necessary ones …)

    Share the sauce, gander. ;)

    REPLY: I suppose that is what I get for posting at 1AM. – Anthony

  104. Anthony Watts says:
    August 13, 2011 at 8:30 pm
    I just got back from my survey trip. I guess nobody got the satire in my last sentence. Even Lubos missed it.

    I wondered why nobody snipped my cheeky remark. ;-)

  105. I assume he is refering to 250MW(th), i.e. thermal output. No way the system he describes includes a radiator big enough to get rid of that much heat, it would be the size of a house.

  106. Scorn not those who dream of creating the impossible, for without them we would be in a quagmire of eternal sameness, those inventive minds of new thought are all we have for a future.

    On the very day that Wilber and Orville
    flew, science declared heavier than air flight impossible.
    They forgot to look outside and see birds doing the impossible, even some dinosaurs learned how to fly. I think that not one scientist weighed a bird to see if they were heavier than air.

    Oft times the impossible becomes the improbable only to become that is so obvious we should have all seen that coming.

    Diss not everything different for many things may prove to be immutable.

  107. peter_ga says:
    August 13, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    “I sometimes contemplate this as I do my gym treadmill exercise. Assuming I am 30 percent efficient, and my temperature is 38 degrees C, then somewhere in my body there is a process whose peak temperature is 170 degrees C generating that power.”

    Muscle cells are ion engines not heat engines so Carnot Efficiency doesn’t apply.

    But if they were heat engines you’d be correct. A minimum of 170C. Higher depending on parasitic losses.

  108. Anthony Watts says:
    August 13, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    I just got back from my survey trip. I guess nobody got the satire in my last sentence. Even Lubos missed it.

    [last line is:] I might add, that this endeavor sounds a little bit like a Tucker, long on promise, short on delivery.

    Vaguely rings a bell, but being a skier, I think of Tucker Snow-cat first.

    How about

    http://www.hfmgv.org/exhibits/showroom/1948/tucker.html

    http://www.crawfordsworld.com/rob/apmicro/tucker/TheBigThree.htm

    Sorry, before my time (/needle), and I didn’t see the movie. The “250 MW” puzzle was the main challenge that caught my eye.

  109. The Wright Brother were not successful in their heavier than air flight
    because of the turgidity of their prose, but
    because, unlike others, they got their physics and engineering right.

  110. This appears to be a more recent and well presented video on Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR)–it looks like the Chinese are really going to try this. The first part of this video is a short summary of the main part:

    Kirk Sorensen @ MRU on Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors
    94 likes, 0 dislikes 6,708 views (time 1:37:12)
    Uploaded by gordonmcdowell on May 24, 2011

    “When arriving in Calgary to present at TEDxYYC, Kirk Sorensen was immediately raced from his late arrival flight to MRU, where Brett McCollum had helped organize a lecture.

    “Kirk gave a brief overview of Molten Salt Reactors (MSR) and specifically Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR). Half of the time was spent fielding questions from the Calgary students.”

  111. Jessie says on August 13, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Though serendipiditious moments can occur which may lead to new discoveries in science? Presumably when the person is schooled in the scientific method and can check that serendipitious observation [moment] step by step? And then disseminate or publish such. Madame Curie being one eg I expect.

    Yes, very true; it is often the replicatable ‘anomolies’ (having properly done the lab work of course!) observed in the course of other work that these discoveries are made … sometimes it is good that experiments or a ‘circuit design’ does not work out quite as planned, as new (or forgotten!) facets of physics (or electronics for me which incl EM ‘fields and waves’ work) are seen and it reminds one (and all) that Mother Nature is still respecting her immutable laws …

    .

  112. wayne Job says on August 14, 2011 at 1:46 am

    Scorn not those who dream of creating the impossible, for without them we would be in a quagmire of eternal sameness, those inventive minds of new thought are all we have for a future. …

    Bedini* Motor enthusiast by any chance?

    Sorry … just had to needle you …

    .

    * Bedini is one of many ‘engineers’ who claim to have designed or co-designed machines that do not adhere to conservation of energy. Such inventions are generally considered perpetual motion machines, but in actuality the constructors have made gross errors in measurement and in their labwork, especially in the use of peak reading volt and current meters when they should be using at the very least RMS measurement capable meters if not other dynamic measurement apparatus e.g. digitizing oscilloscopes or NI DAQ cards … the result being meaningless, skewed data and bad maths

    .

  113. For the Thorium reactor don’t use a uranium seed, use a Farnsworth fusor producing high speed protons spalling neutrons off a liquid lead target.

  114. Spector:

    Kirk Sorensen is one of the best speakers on nuclear issues, bar none. One of the reasons why, is his knowledge of cross platform reactors. We can forgive him some glossing over, of problems and difficulties in the technology, because of his obvious enthusiasm. After all, this is why he became a advocate.

    Liquid fuels can/have been problematic from the operating perspective due to large perturbations in neutron flux. It’s hard enough to control flux and flux shape when the fissioning fuel is static, much more so, at velocity. Even convection currents now have nuclear consequences. The bigger the reactor, the bigger the problem.

    I see nothing that cannot be overcome by design/engineering and agree with his entire lecture.

    I do not understand why Canada is not leading the charge. The CANDU is fully thorium capable (Kirk forgot about CANDU’s continuous online fueling capability, meaning they can reconfigure core while running). Canada also had experience with their AECL ‘s sodium Whiteshell reactor in Pinawa, Manitoba. They fell asleep at the wheel.

    Thanks for the most excellent video. GK

  115. RE: G. Karst: (August 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm) RE: my post (August 14, 2011 at 7:05 am)

    “I do not understand why Canada is not leading the charge.”

    Most of this is new to me, however, I believe he says that the primary advantage of the CANDU process is the ability to use natural uranium without reprocessing, and that advantage does not apply with thorium.

    I am impressed with the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) concept as the only credible solution I have yet seen for the ‘Peak Oil’ or more correctly the ‘Declining Oil’ problem, when and if it ever happens. They actually built a proof of concept unit at Oak Ridge. It sounds like these plants should be less costly to operate and they are inherently more safe. It is quite impressive to hear that the ‘waste’ thorium from one small rare earth element mine could provide all power needed by the whole world. Thus I would expect these reactors to be a potential source of low cost energy for all purposes.

    From what I have seen, it appears that conversion to this form of energy production has been officially disallowed in this country only because it was incompatible with our pre-existing, first-proven-method nuclear technology. If they perform as advertised, I think the lower cost and enhanced safety of these LFTR reactors would render all earlier nuclear power reactors obsolete.

  116. The atomic cars designs in the video game Fallout are a little more practical. They have dual axles to support the extra weight of radiation shielding.

  117. Spector:

    Yes, I agree, it is very exciting technology.

    One of the reasons, I would like to see Canada switch (a reactor) to thorium, is it would demonstrate thorium use in a working LARGE reactor. This would quickly expose technical problems in large scale thorium use and we could quickly move along the learning curve, necessary for large scale refinement and deployment. Supply infrastructure would get a head start.

    I am not convinced, thorium isotopic enrichment is necessarily an absolute requirement. The fact that those clever Canadians can shuffle fuel (robotic) from the outer channels (Kirk’s so called blanket) to the inner fuel channels, could mean on-line enrichment of thorium, in situ, by neutron activation/transmutation. After all, isn’t that the beauty of thorium fuel? Any reactivity deficiencies could probably be compensated by the addition of plutonium MUX fuel. Of course, I am just spitballing, and we cannot know until someone does the work. Hence my call to Canada to get off their technological asses and try something that may propel them into world leadership. GK

  118. I know this is a scam, but if I can get a 500 pound 300,000hp motor, I will use it for aviation to produce a hypersonic turbine engine (since we are in fantasy land already I’ll invent blades that don’t break or melt at those speeds) and launch satellites off the back of fast high altitude aircraft.

    I would also use it to place a reactor in every neighborhood so we can all crank the AirCon units down to 50F if we want.

    Back to reality, even at 300hp I can’t see the physics working and the problem of high energy particles flying around the vehicles would cause conniptions on the part of the general public even if the levels were shown to be insignificant. Mention the word radiation and the general public goes ballistic – even when one mentions the E-M radiation in a microwave to some people.

  119. Sorry:

    Any reactivity deficiencies could probably be compensated by the addition of plutonium MUX fuel.

    MUX should read MOX (Mixed OXide).

    Thunk-you very much. GK

  120. It almost sounds like Kirk Sorensen believes that he could make artificial gasoline from the CO2 in the air using energy from his LIFTR reactors at less overall cost than it could be made from material extracted from the Canadian tar sands. That was from “Oh by the way,” comments.

    I note that he has just started his own company, Flibe Energy, to make commercial LIFTR reactors in this country. If he is not shot down by the current market crunch or insurmountable technical difficulties, this could be a Microsoft garage sale startup moment.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/08/09/further-on-thorium/#comment-720412

  121. Please note that the Flibe LFTR thorium reactors are intended as a better (lower cost, more safe, and less waste) *nuclear power station* reactor technology as opposed to the laser driven automotive thorium reactors proposed by Charles Stevens of the Connecticut-based Laser Power Systems Inc. of the main article.

  122. I looked up the company (http://www.laserturbinepower.com) – they appear to be talking about 250 horsepower, not 250 megawatts. That’s a wee bit more reasonable.

    They’ve also had no updates on the web site in two years. And appear to be claiming a ‘thorium laser’ releasing energy from a thorium nuclear reaction, with the only input being heat. As far as I know, the only way to make thorium release energy is to put in a bunch of neutrons from either a seriously radioactive material (uranium, plutonium) or a quite large particle accelerator (which the Indian government is working on).

    I don’t think this ‘thorium powered car’ is a serious proposal… it strikes me as more of snake-oil.

  123. Seems there are many here who don’t pay very close attention. The 250MW is obviously a typo –
    250KW is just about all the power a car will ever need. The comments by Stevens and some skeptics lead me to believe that Stevens is much better informed than his skeptics are. They didn’t even know, for example, that his power plant cannot produce U-233. And they often refer to his machine as if it were a miniature nuclear reactor, which it clearly isn’t. So my money is on him
    and I’ll wait the relatively short 18 months or so and see what happens. Since the battery pack for the upcoming Tesla Model S with 300 miles of range costs roughly $40,000 and weighs over 1000 pounds, I’d say that Stevens has plenty of room in terms of economics and size restraints. If
    his machine costs less than $20,000, he wins it all.

  124. An interesting link here: http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2011/08/thorium-scam-widely-linked-hits.html

    Same complaints I saw – energy densities as per thorium fission:

    “…when silvery metal thorium is heated by an external source, it becomes so dense its molecules give off considerable heat.

    Small blocks of thorium generate heat surges that are configured as a thorium-based laser, Stevens tells Ward’s. These create steam from water within mini-turbines, generating electricity to drive a car.”

    Hot metals expand. Thermal energy is not sufficient to split thorium – that requires neutron bombardment. Thorium-based laser? Thorium is opaque, and won’t be lasing anytime soon as a metal.

    Steven’s previous venture, Helyxzion, LLC (http://www.helyxzion.com/) was in DNA/genetics. Hmmm… snake oil…

  125. Why getting upset about such nonsense, and not simply enjoy it? In fact, Anthony, why don’t you create something like a “Friday-Funny” drop-down page next to your Refernce Pages, and have articles like this and the Italian cold fusion, and Josh’s cartoons in it? And add algae for green energy too, and, and,… I am sure there will be more.

  126. I expect many readers here are in the same position as the noble lady in the UK House of Lords who had to interrupt the speaker and ask what thorium was. It is a mildly radioactive heavy metal with a half-life on the order of 14 billion years.

    The complicated reaction for power generation begins when a natural Thorium-232 absorbs a neutron and becomes the more unstable thorium-233, which quickly changes to Protactinium-233 and that over a period of about a month changes to Uranium-233. Now if the Uranium-233 nucleus absorbs a neutron, it will break apart (fission) releasing *energy* and two free neutrons, one to crack open another Uranium-233 nucleus and also one to start another Thorium-232 nucleus marching off to its final destiny.

    Thorium is atomic number of Thorium is 90, that of Protactinium is 91, and that of Uranium is 92; so we can see that the long part of this cycle is the progressive transformation of neutrons into protons as the total number of nucleons remains the same–233. It certainly looks like we do not want the Protactinium nuclei to absorb any more neutrons as a matter of process efficiency. For those who have not heard of protactinium before, suffice it to say that it is an unstable, short-lived element, not naturally occurring.

    I understand the above theory has survived an extended proof of concept test at Oak Ridge, but that project was discontinued, before an actual prototype was ever built.

    Other than seeing that there is a paywall paper about cavitation induced fission of thorium-228, I have not yet found any real evidence that there is a valid scientific theory behind the new method proposed by Stevens for automotive use.

    http://www.natscience.com/Uwe/Forum.aspx/chem/10870/Ultrasonic-piezonuclear-reaction-of-thorium-solutions

  127. On the natscience link that I posted above, be sure to check out the included comment section.

    This is a link to what appears to be a much more credible Thorium Energy project:

    EnergyFromThorium [Blog]

    “Devoted to the discussion of thorium as a future energy resource, and the machine to extract that energy–the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor.”

    http://energyfromthorium.com/

  128. Spector:

    Great links! Whenever I think about thorium and LFTRs, it stirs up undesired urges to come out of retirement (there are so many possibilities, obstacles, directions of problem solutions etc.) . Please stop. I want to quietly enjoy my remaining years. :( GK

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