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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."
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8 Grams of Thorium Could Replace Gasoline In Cars

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  • Fraud (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Scareduck ( 177470 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:50PM (#37070860) Homepage Journal

    Majikal lasers hitting thorium, and whoosh, electricity? What is the physical mechanism for harvesting this electricity?

    This smells like naked fraud.

  • Or a complete lie. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:57PM (#37070982)

    Radioactive decay can't be stimulated by lasers.
    The original article links eventually to what is basically a crackpot attempting to steal investors money.
    The whole basis of the article is a complete fabrication, or at best delusion. [] "Radioactive decay is a stochastic (i.e., random) process at the level of single atoms, in that, according to quantum theory, it is impossible to predict when a given atom will decay."

    Disprove this - by making it nonrandom - and you as a starting point have just got a nice shiny Nobel prize.

  • Re:NIMBY (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZombieBraintrust ( 1685608 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:04PM (#37071120)
    Hom many gallons of gasoline does it take to mine 8g of Thorium? Oil comes out of the ground pretty easily. Is it similer to mining coal? Or are we talking displacing and sifting through a ton of dirt and rock?
  • by erice ( 13380 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:20PM (#37071456) Homepage

    Thorium, by itself, does not fission. You need a neutron source to breed Uranium from Thorium which you can then fission. Just shooting a lazer at Thorium isn't going to do anything. Thorium is radioactive but you will need much more than a few grams to power you car that way.

  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:22PM (#37071492) Homepage

    Likely for the same reason that diesel-electric locomotives go to all the trouble of generating electricity rather than just powering the wheels from the diesel engine.

    An steam engine of the piston and cylinder type - your traditional steam engine - isn't terribly efficient and requires high steam pressures. It is also difficult to recycle the water. Such engines do not have high cyclic rates but can produce quite a lot of horsepower, making it very unsuitable for something like a lightweight car. The engine would be really awful at high speeds and require a huge and very complicated transmission to operate at both low and high speeds.

    Conversely, a steam turbine could operate with lower pressures but at vastly higher speeds with much less horsepower. You can't make it run very slowly at all, and like a lot of turbines the different in rotational speed between idle and max power is rather small. This would require a very complicated transmission, probably with some sort of variable-ratio component to get any speed control at all.

    The end result is that it isn't just more efficient to spin the turbine at a fixed speed and use an electrical system to control the power to the wheels, it is likely the only way to do it at all that is even remotely practical. It is the fundamental reason why we don't have turbine powered cars and trucks today.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NeverVotedBush ( 1041088 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:29PM (#37071638)
    I just read the article - this is a scam. A hoax. They say one gram = 7500 gallons of gasoline but at the end claim no nuclear reactions are taking place. They say you have to "superheat" the thorium for that to happen.

    Without nuclear reactions, there is no way to have one gram of thorium release the same energy as 7500 gallons of gasoline. It's simply impossible.

    And there is no way to have a laser cause a nuclear reaction unless you are using it to implode targets.

    Thorium is being looked at as reactor fuel but it's not the kind of reactor that would fit under an automobile hood.

    I hope nobody invests any money in this. It isn't real.
  • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lpp ( 115405 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:32PM (#37071706) Homepage Journal

    Demand will go up, but it's also possible that production efficiency will go up too which coupled with competition from other manufacturers would cause prices to go back down.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rlanctot ( 310750 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:36PM (#37071766)

    I think the challenge here is not to design a container that won't explode, but to design a container to keep environmentalists' brains from exploding when they hear the words 'car' and 'radioactiver' used together.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mlts ( 1038732 ) * on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:54PM (#37072078)

    If someone can do this with a motorcycle, think about a few changes to make the engine run at 3600 rpm in the US or 3000 RPM overseas, or variable RPM with an inverter.

    Having the ability to have cheap power, even if it about 5 to 20 kilowatts would change life greatly for villages. This would provide water filteration ability, power for a water pump for running water, lights, HVAC for a building for those too young/old/infirm to take the heat. Slightly larger models can help with desalination (even if it is the primitive process of distilling the water 3-4 times), and then pumping it inland.

    Another use for this would be coupling the motor with an inverter and a capacitor bank and having clean power for remote data centers, be it a shed that has a heater to keep the servers running in the middle of Alaska to transmit weather and seismic info, to stations which watch forest 24/7 in case of forest fire, to seismic info near volcanos.

    Cars are cool, but the biggest application for this technology wouldn't be transportation (although it would help it), but electricity generation.

  • Snake Oil? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 12, 2011 @03:06PM (#37072264)

    "Sounds like like it's only relatively abundant."
    Common enough to be used in lantern mantles for decades. It is actually a "waste" product from the refining of rare earths used in electronics and electric cars. Thorium is one of the reasons that we don't produce rare earths in the US anymore. It is slightly radioactive so the cost of disposal is very hight.

    How ever this all sounds like snake oil to me. Look at this part of the story!
    "This means no nuclear reaction occurs within the thorium. It remains in the same state and is not turned into uranium 233, which happens only if thorium is sufficiently super-heated to generate a fission reaction. “It’s very safe,” he says."

    Where does the energy come from? What are the physics of how this works? I mean come on Slashdot this is makes the cold fusion story look like good science! This actually from the description violates the laws of the universe! You can only get x amount of energy from a chemical reaction to get this level of power you have be using a nuclear reaction of some kind! Thorium is a good energy source in when used in nuclear reactors. Pointing an laser at a block of metal and getting more energy out than you put in without any nuclear reaction is extremely questionable at best. I want some physics to back up that claim.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @03:17PM (#37072406)

    Extrapolating linearly, we get to "Hurfa-durfa, marijuana" as the height of hilarity.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer