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