Txchnologist: Thorium lasers: Thoroughly plausible for nuclear cars

Some proposed technological innovations seem so far out that they are easy to reject out of hand.

But sometimes, a new idea has a kernel of plausibility. Such is the case with a new project to develop a thorium laser power generation system that its creator says could provide electricity for the grid, stand-alone power applications and even cars.

Charles Stevens, an inventor and entrepreneur, recently revealed that his Massachusetts-based R&D firm, Laser Power Systems (LPS), is working on a turbine/electric generator system that is powered by “an accelerator-driven thorium-based laser.”

The thorium laser does not produce a beam of coherent light like conventional lasers, but instead merely heats up and gives off energy.

Thorium, a silvery-white metal, is a mildly radioactive element (with an atomic weight of 90) that is as abundant as lead. It is present in large quantities in India and is a much-touted stand-in for uranium in nuclear reactors because its fission is not self-sustaining, a type of reaction called “sub-critical.”

Thorium could be used as car fuel

Thorium could be used as car fuel

Enlarge Photo

The idea has energized the small but active thorium community, which holds that it is the answer to our clean energy needs because it could, effectively, power a car forever. The new technology “would be totally emissions-free,” Stevens said, “with no need for recharging.”

Laser Heating

The LPS power plant, for all its whiz-bang properties, isn’t a complete departure from traditional power generation: The thorium is lased and the resulting heat flashes a fluid and creates pressurized steam inside a closed-loop system.

The steam then drives a turbine that turns an electric generator.

A 250-kilowatt unit (equivalent to about 335 horsepower) weighing about 500 pounds would be small and light enough to put under the hood of a car, Stevens claims.

And because a gram of thorium has the equivalent potential energy content of 7,500 gallons of gasoline, LPS calculates that using just 8 grams of thorium in the unit could power an average car for 5,000 hours, or about 300,000 miles of normal driving.

Stevens isn’t the only one who believes thorium could power cars.

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Comments (6)
  1. Uh, did anyone bother to note that the CEO is already in major trouble with the SEC for a previous "too good to be true" scam...?

  2. Let's see, it still hasn't been able to be used for power plant or other mass-usage and it's been predicted for cars since the 50s, yet now we can get it into a car...???
    Only someone like Kent B. would fall for this nonsense... Utterly impractical and not much closer than we were in 1951, either.

  3. 8 grams of material to travel 300,000 miles is simply amazing.

    I can't help think that it is wrong, but a little checking on the web seems to suggest that it is easily the right order of magnitude.

    But even if they were wrong by a factor of, say, 100x you would still only be talking about 0.8 KG to travel 300,000 miles. Might make EVs look a little silly.

  4. In theory, his theory will work; any nuke frantic will tell you that, but there is no way I would want a car that looks like the null above or one that costs as much as a nuclear power plant would to build. It probably would take 500 years for the price of a nuclear powered car to come down in price where a working class person could afford it. It it works then you can build a electric motor with enough horse power to pull cargo trucks, planes and trains. They are probably the only ones who can afford a nuclear electric vehicle.

  5. A quick search of patents revealed this gem from a Charles Stevens (not sure if it is the same guy). It is patent D633,216 but sensitive readers should not look for it because it has nothing what-so-ever to do with cars.

  6. This sounds very neat, but if they cost $10,000,000 each it doesn't matter that it can run for years on a few grams of Thorium.

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