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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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  • NIMBY (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ddxexex ( 1664191 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:39PM (#37070630)
    Unfortunately, this technology probably won't get to far after people read the word 'radioactive', even though I'd hazard to guess that 8g of Thorium probably has less environmental and health impact than 7,500 gallons of gasoline. Otherwise it sounds awesome. Is there another word for 'radioactive' we can use to get rid of the negative connotation?
  • by suso ( 153703 ) * on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:45PM (#37070738) Homepage Journal

    It is a bad thing that in 2011 we're still trying to use non-renewable resources to power transportation for everyone. Even with the US having 400000 tons of thorium, I figure that's enough to power 150 billion cars. Sound like a lot, not really. In 100 years we'll be back to the same spot we are now and be guilty of pushing the problem off to our descendants.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rwa2 ( 4391 ) * on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:52PM (#37070884) Homepage Journal

    "abundant" "rare earth mineral"

    Sounds like like it's only relatively abundant.

    Also sounds like 1g of Thorium probably only translates to 7500 gal of gasoline under optimal conditions, which I take to mean unrealistic efficiencies and economies of scale beyond what's achievable for a turbine that would fit in a small car. Just one of the silly things about steam turbines, they're only really efficient enough to be practical when they're really really big (like, 777 or better yet factory-sized).

  • by a_nonamiss ( 743253 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:57PM (#37070978)
    What's more, you could charge a battery powered electric vehicle at your house, and save the need for you to lug around a small nuclear reactor in your car. The article talks about the difficulties of miniaturizing it for use in cars. Simple solution: don't. We already have batteries that fit nicely into a car and have a range nearing 300 miles, in 10 years that range will probably be 10 times what it is today. Plus, if it meant efficient energy, I wouldn't really mind something the size of a box truck in my backyard, or my basement. Hell, you could probably bury most of the reactor underground.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:02PM (#37071086)

    Gross miscalculation?

    "400000 tons of thorium"
    "1 gram of thorium produces the equivalent energy of 7,500 gallons of gasoline"

    400000 tons = 800000000 pounds. ... which equals 362873896000 grams. ... which is the equivalent of 2721554220000000 gallons of gasoline. ... divided by well over the world's population (we'll say 8 billion) = 340194.2775 gallons per person ... divided by 300 years = 1133.980925 gallons per person, per year

    So, after adding 1 billion to the population, and assuming every single person has a car (which is ridiculous), and stretching it over 300 years, we still have a huge amount of fuel...

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:05PM (#37071142) Homepage Journal

    Assuming 50% real world efficiency, and that your car averages 20mpg, 1 gram of thorium would still get you through your first 75,000 miles. I'm ok with that! They can design a helium fuel tank to not rupture in an explosive manner at highway speeds in a car, surely they can put 1g of thorium in a container that won't disperse the material in an aerosol form on impact. I'm not sure what the cost of Thorium is, but I'm willing to bet 1g of refined Thorium is under $200. I spend that much on gas in a month.

  • Several thoughts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:18PM (#37071392) Journal
    Far too many nut jobs in America (on both sides of the equation) will carp about this as being dangerous on the highways. However, there would be multiple places why this should be developed quickly:
    1) Tractors, construction equipment, etc. all make heavy use of fuel. By putting this in these, it would drop energy usage across the nation by 5% or more (yup, this equipment makes HEAVY use of fuel). In addition, it has the advantage that there is LITTLE chance of accidents compared to highway miles.
    2) Trains. This could be used on trains easily. Relatively few accidents compared to cars. In addition, there could be one car up front for the engineer and major motor, with this on another car 1-2 back. With that approach, less chance of damage (again keeping the nut jobs happy).
    2) Space. We need the ability to send nuke power to the moon and mars. Nut jobs get upset about Pb going up. Thorium is SAFE by itself AND even less is needed. It is ideal to send up something like this to the moon, remote missions, etc. Heck, combine this with the new Stirling power generator and we can send new voyagers out that have a VASIMR engine that will work for the next 40 years.
  • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shadowfaxcrx ( 1736978 ) on Friday August 12, 2011 @02:24PM (#37071544)

    Well, there's also the bit that if it starts going into cars, demand will go up, and so it will be more expensive.

    That said, it'll be part of the price of the new car, so you won't notice as much. If you're dropping $30,000 on a car, you won't notice an extra 3 or 4 grand on the loan for the first 10 years of fuel all that much.

    If this ever came to fruition, it would wreck hell on the roads until we re-organized the tax system to collect infrastructure taxes off of something other than gasoline.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jcr ( 53032 ) <.moc.cam. .ta. .rcj.> on Friday August 12, 2011 @05:36PM (#37074224) Journal

    Better by what criteria?

    I love the idea of massively decentralized power generation. It could free up gigatons of metals that we're currently using in high-tension lines, towers, tranformers, etc, etc. Not to mention, without transmission lines, your power doesn't have to fail anytime you have a massive snowstorm.


...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake