Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Transportation Power Hardware

8 Grams of Thorium Could Replace Gasoline In Cars 937

An anonymous reader writes "Thorium, an abundant and radioactive rare earth mineral, 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. Combining a laser, radioactive material, and mini-turbines might sound like a complicated alternative solution to filling your gas tank, but there's one feature that sells it as a great alternative solution: 1 gram of thorium produces the equivalent energy of 7,500 gallons of gasoline."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

8 Grams of Thorium Could Replace Gasoline In Cars

Comments Filter:
  • Yeah, right. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:42PM (#37070684) Homepage

    From the article:

    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.

    250 megawatts? Somebody is just making up numbers. Takeoff power for a 747 is about 100MW.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:45PM (#37070728)

    There's something seriously lacking in the explanation. "When thorium is heated, it generates further heat surges." Where do these come from?

    Nuclear fission? Perhaps possible, but why does it need to be heated for it?
    Alpha and beta decay? Again, possible and even happens, but in that case 1 gram isn't going to be nearly enough.
    Or perhaps thorium is being used as a store of energy, but there are better materials for it and a gram is again tiny.

    My bullshit detector is beeping silently in the background...

  • Re:So which is it? (Score:5, Informative)

    by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:46PM (#37070758) Homepage Journal []

    Despite their name, rare earth elements (with the exception of the radioactive promethium) are relatively plentiful in the Earth's crust, with cerium being the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million (similar to copper). However, because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms known as rare earth minerals.[3] It was the very scarcity of these minerals (previously called "earths") that led to the term "rare earth". The first such mineral discovered was gadolinite, a compound of cerium, yttrium, iron, silicon and other elements. This mineral was extracted from a mine in the village of Ytterby in Sweden; many of the rare earth elements bear names derived from this location.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:49PM (#37070822)

    Are they being followed in this article? What I do not understand is how slight radioactivity can produce more heat than is required to start the process, and how 1 gram is 7,500 gallons of gas. What in the thorium model is being consumed, and how is it being consumed without radioactive decay? Makes no sense...

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Informative)

    by wagnerrp ( 1305589 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:03PM (#37071092)
    The term "rare earth" is a bit of a misnomer. The materials themselves are not that rare. The issue is that they are not commonly found in a rich deposit. Rather, they are dispersed throughout an area, requiring expensive mining and refining techniques.
  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Informative)

    by f()rK()_Bomb ( 612162 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:13PM (#37071290)

    Rare earth elements arent actually rare, its just a confusing name. Thorium is actually pretty plentiful, 3 or 4 times more common than uranium and its very easy to extract. We get it was a by product when we purify the rare earths we need anyways. Thorium would have been used for the original nuclear reactors, its vastly safer and you cant use it to manufacture weapons. And therein lies the problem of course, they wanted to be able to make nukes from reactors back when we built them.

    I believe you are right about them really making the numbers sound much better than they should be. That sounds like the kind of efficiency youd get from using thorium in a full-scale nuclear plant.

  • by liquidweaver ( 1988660 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:23PM (#37071520)
    This is the Charles Stevens [] [] A whois on his website shows creation in Dec 2010, and he lists. 1985 at the bottom of his website. This whole thing is ridiculous. How does this stuff make front page Slashdot? Did Slashdot merge with Enquirer or the Onion recently?
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:27PM (#37071592) Homepage

    Actual web site of promoter. [] Even worse car-related web site of promoter. [] He's been plugging this since 2009 or so.

    Laser-induced fission [] is quite feasible, and requires far less energy input than laser-induced fusion. Laser fission of thorium [] has been done on a small scale as a lab experiment. Thorium reactors have been built, with modest success.

    A pure thorium reactor won't achieve criticality, because thorium has no isotopes that fission on their own. The fuel has to have uranium or plutonium mixed in to start the nuclear reaction. The laser concept seems to be to use a laser to get things going.

    There's been some interest in accelerator-pumped thorium fission. [] It's been tried in Japan [], but that group hasn't reached breakeven. It's a plausible concept, but so far nobody has been able to figure out a way to make it work.

    Incidentally, this is not a "clean" process. It generates radioactive by-products where the accelerator beam hits the thorium, in addition to the usual nuclear reactor fission products. A car-sized version is a fantasy.

  • Re:NIMBY (Score:5, Informative)

    by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:27PM (#37071604) Homepage Journal

    It's rock you'd be sifting through anyway: thorium is a byproduct of rare earth production.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Informative)

    by DigitalReverend ( 901909 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:41PM (#37071858)

    That 440,900 tons equals 399,977,751,866 grams

    If one gram = 7,500 gallons of gasoline that the equivalent of 2,999,833,138,995,000 gallons of gasoline.

      In 2009, the U.S. used 126,773,388,000 gallons of gasoline. []

    Which means that the US supply of thorium could provide the equivalent of 21,751 years of gasoline usage in the U.S.

    I think it's plentiful enough.

  • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:57PM (#37072148)

    You left out Duke Nukem Forever.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller