By on August 11, 2011

Steampunks and Atomic Age nuts rejoice! WardsAuto reports that Connecticut-based Laser Power Systems is “getting closer” to developing a prototype electric car which develops its power using the radioactive heavy metal Thorium. According to LPS’s CEO,

when 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… These create steam from water within mini-turbines, generating electricity to drive a car. A 250 MW unit weighing about 500 lbs. (227 kg) would be small and light enough to drop under the hood of a car… Because thorium is so dense, similar to uranium, it stores considerable potential energy: 1 gm of thorium equals the energy of 7,500 gallons (28,391 L) of gasoline. Prototype systems generate electricity within 30 seconds of firing a laser. This can feed power into a car, without the need for storage.

What about radioactivity? LPS says Thorium’s low levels could be blocked with aluminum foil. Yes, tinfoil.  Terrorism? Because the Thorium is not superheated, it does not produce fissile material. Where does Thorium come from? Let’s just say the US has the world’s largest known reserves. General safety? The U.S. Geological Survey’s former senior advisor on rare earths calls the concept “both plausible and sensible.” So why aren’t we driving around thorium-laser-turbine EVs already? According to LPS CEO Charles Stevens.

“The issue is having a customized application that is purpose-made,” he says, admitting that developing a portable and usable turbine and generator is proving to be a tougher task than the laser-thorium unit.

“How do you take the laser and put these things together efficiently?” he asks rhetorically. But once that is achieved, “This car will run for a million miles. The car will wear out before the engine. There is no oil, no emissions – nothing.”

Sounds great… but we’re not holding our breath just yet.

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50 Comments on “Are You Ready For: The Thorium-Laser-Steam-Turbine Electric Powertrain?...”


  • avatar
    V572625694

    Hate to be picky, but aluminum foil ≠ tinfoil.

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      Thorium reactors have been discussed for over 20 years. No one has been able to make one work cost-effectively in a large scale reactor. Scaling down to automotive size is even more difficult.

      I’ll believe it when I see a fleet of them run for a year as NYC taxis.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Thorium-based LFTR technology was designed by Alvin Weinberg and tested in the 1960s, and has the potential to be far safer than pressurized water reactors.

        But for a car? That’s a bit much. Better to have LFTRs generate power and heat to either recharge batteries or generate liquid hydrocarbon fuels from atmospheric CO2 + water..

  • avatar
    gslippy

    The “250 MW” must be a typo in the article. “250 KW” would be equal to 335 HP. 250 MW would be 335,000 HP.

    In any case, this seems too good to be true. The Motor Trend mag from 1951 sums it up.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Yeah, 250 MW is a little less than half the power produced by Vermont Yankee.

      Thorium reactors are neat. Never needing to refuel, for the entire lifespan of the car, that’s cool too. Still, I think I’d rather have a lithium battery in my vehicle and put the thorium reactor and zillion-degree pressurized steam turbine in a big concrete bunker somewhere, though. I can live with the charging time, thanks.

  • avatar
    crm114

    I heard that cobalt thorium g has a half-life of 93 years…

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    I too choked on the 250MW figure…

    Regardless, count me in. I can’t wait to swap one of those puppies into a real sleeper, like a Dodge Omni, and start kicking some ass. I could race all day, and then power my neighborhood at night.

  • avatar

    Wow, if this car got the efficiency equivalent of 20mpg, 7500 gallons worth of energy would fuel the car for its entire 150,000 mile design life!

    So you only need 1 gram of fuel, forever … very impressive!

    It will indeed be interesting to see how the prototype comes out …

    I’ll bet cost is the real stopping point. I wonder how much. If this was tried in the days of 50c per gallon gas and found wanting, it might well fly in today’s $4 per gallon environment …

    D

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    And not one mention of “Freakin’ Lasers” in the whole article. I am impressed.

  • avatar

    Make sure to make all the valves out of Beryllium while you’re at it. :P

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    Finally someone is thinking outside the box instead of incremental improvements to ICE engines, hybrids or BEVs that are still waiting on the “Battery from Heaven”.

    Given the heat this can generate, could it not generate electricity directly via thermionic emission without the need for turbines etc.?

  • avatar
    Toy Maker

    Funny.. I just heard a radio segment about Thorium on CBC radio over the weekend.
    They said pretty much the same thing, and that the reason there wasn’t as much research on Thorium is because a great deal more other companies (jobs!) were invested into the development of Uranium power.

    Apparently India is making a big push for Thorium too.. would be interesting to see how this plays out.

    If we do end up putting it in cars it will definitely be a game changer… you only replace your car’s body but the reactor gets recycled / installed into the next car. Heck we might end up owning an individual Thorium reactor for life and use it to power everything we purchase subsequently, be it house or automobiles.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      India is making a big push for Thorium because they have more of it than we do. They have the largest reserves in the world.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        America could power itself with LFTRs at current power usage rates for centuries if not millennia, purely domestically. In fact, coal tailings could be mined for thorium, and the thorium in a ton of coal contains approximately 7 times more energy than the coal itself. Right now it just gets discarded in tailings or thru the smokestack (which is why people are more likely to get radiation from coal smog than from living near a nucular reactor even now, let alone when safe LFTRs are commonplace).

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Ummm…. you use heat to activate a laser to produce heat… nice.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      It’s the same as using electricity to spark an ICE to turn an alternator to generate electricity to spark… (You will still need a battery to start the self-sustaining reaction.)

      What matters is extracting & consuming the stored energy in the fuel. I have doubts that this process is so simple, and that so much energy can freely be extracted.

  • avatar
    Bytor

    Yeah sure. We are decades away from Thorium Reactors for power, but we can do it cars with little effort?

  • avatar
    cdotson

    First of all, the thorium isn’t the only “fuel.” The article here on TTAC even indicates that “when heated by an external heat source” implying that some other fuel will be required to kick off whatever reaction is occurring. Never mind the fact that you will probably have to top off on water periodically.

    Did anybody look up “laser power systems?” The web sites for this company ring all kinds of alarm bells. I see this as just an attempt to solicit venture capital and is far less likely to produce workable real-world solutions that any of the zany out-there alternatives to the standard Otto cycle.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      “implying that some other fuel will be required to kick off whatever reaction is occurring”

      You do realize that you don’t use gasoline to start your car, right?

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Exciting technology, that would be better suited to distributed household power. Fixed installations could be much better protected. Something a good deal less powerful than 250kw would be enough. I have a slab of concrete alongside my house, water supply and (hopefully rendered redundant) heating oil tank close by. Come hook me up.

  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    The high energy density quoted can only be realized by nuclear fission. To get that going, you must convert thorium to Uranium 233, which is the actual fissile material (Thorium as such isn’t).

    In the process, you also produce Uranium 232, which has very hard radiation that certainly cannot be shielded easily – in fact, the difficulty of handling that hard radiation is often quoted as the reason why thorium is not used as a source of nuclear weapon material.

    What all this has got to do with lasers beats me. But I don’t need to know – the above reasons are entirely sufficient to conclude that this is complete and utter nonsense.

    • 0 avatar
      chris724

      This is one of the few factual posts in this whole thread. Thanks Hildy!

    • 0 avatar
      Mellow

      Meanwhile, in realityland, the Soviets deployed hundreds of autonomous buoys powered by thorium in the 60s and 70s that have only recently been cleaned up. Some of them are still on station, powering lights and radio signals. Learn some history before you damn something as unbuildable that has been built and deployed, and remains in service 3 decades later.

      • 0 avatar
        horseflesh

        I think the Soviet stuff was fueled by strontium. Thorium isn’t energetic enough, just sitting there, to be a good power source like some other elements.

      • 0 avatar
        Hildy Johnson

        Dear silly me – I thought this was a matter of physics, not history.

        If it can power a radio transmitter for 30 years, surely it must be good enough to propel a car up the Appalachian.

      • 0 avatar
        Mellow

        If you can embrace a battery powered car, why not nuclear? It is about the same idea, take something that can power a flashlight, and apply new technology to make it far more powerful. Materials tech is so much better now than it was in the 50s and 60s, and understanding of nuclear physics has advanced a lot. There is an awful lot of power available through nuclear manipulation, far more than can ever be realized by batteries. One gram of matter, perfectly transmuted into energy, can power NYC for a year. E=MC2

      • 0 avatar
        Bytor

        You are really coming across as a shill for these scammers.

      • 0 avatar
        Mellow

        What I am a shill for, Biter, is a new alternative for the IC engine. Electric will never work from stored energy. The automobile needs a power source. You like old technologies, that’s fine. You have lots of company. How many kinds of filament did Edison go through before he found one that worked? You would rather read by candle light. Others look for the next new thing. Insults didn’t stop Edison, they will not stop me.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Thorium isn’t even fissile, so the article’s question “What about radioactivity?” (not to mention the fact that LPS apparently answers it with a straight face) doesn’t make any sense.

    • 0 avatar
      Hildy Johnson

      “Insults didn’t stop Edison, they will not stop me.”

      Blowing hot air doesn’t make you an Edison – blow-dryers have been around for a while. Now if you can build one that runs on thorium …

  • avatar

    I’m skeptical. Just one issue: while the radioactivity can be stopped with aluminum foil (and probably doesn’t penetrate skin), implying its an alpha emitter, if the stuff somehow got inside the body, it would be extremely carcinogenic. I don’t know enough about this material to know whether this is a reasonable scenario, but in a major accident, it seems possible that tiny particles might be released that could be dangerous.

    • 0 avatar
      Hildy Johnson

      I’m sure there will be no accidents. A picosecond before the impact, the car will simply launch itself into a geostationary orbit, then safely descend to the nearest Starbucks.

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      In other applications, they solve the problem of having the “nasty” chemical embedded in tic-tac sized lozenges. The idea is that they’re small enough to flow and not crack (much) under impact, and large enough to find all of them when you clean up the mess.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I can see the commercial now: The nordic god comes on and says

    “I’m Thorium!”

    The beautiful godess says

    “You’re Thorium. I’m tho thorium I can hardly pithium.”

  • avatar
    Mellow

    This is one of a few promising technologies coming down the ‘pike. Count on the government to stop them, though, since they thrive on crisis, and have no use for solutions that make people more independent of central control and taxation.

  • avatar
    chris724

    This article is nothing but babbling pseudoscience. I can’t believe anyone is taking it seriously. Since when is fission initiated by an external heat source? Since never. And the Thorium “molecules” give off heat? Did we refer to the 1950s as the “molecular age”? And “Because the Thorium is not superheated, it does not produce fissile material”. How exactly are you going to have a fission reaction without any fissile material? And what does “superheating” have to do with anything? And the byproducts would certainly contain some nasty stuff that terrorists might want for a dirty bomb. This is obviously a total scam.

  • avatar

    I wish I could have been living in America when it had dreams. Chrysler was building Jet powered cars and they even built flying cars that people believed we’d be driving now. Now, there’s virtually no dreams or hope – and the Arab Emirates are conceiving and building everything we were supposed to – WITH OUR MONEY.

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    Pure silliness for car application. As Hildy points out, the short-lived “hard radiation” from the fission chain is impossible to shield in a car-friendly way. For power reactors, thorium has the major advantage that there are many fewer long-lived waste products than is the case with present uranium fed reactors.

  • avatar
    Alacrity

    Think EEstor has a better constructed story – Wards should feature them.

    • 0 avatar
      Bytor

      Yes, it is pretty damn sad how long that scam has been running successfully.

      But this one is completely ridiculous. Charles Stevens, was previously running medical scams. He doesn’t even cover his tracks. Check his linked in page:
      http://www.linkedin.com/in/laserturbinepower
      His Previous venture is listed as CEO of Helyxzion (cure all disease):

      http://help-cure-disease-now.blogspot.com/

      HELYXZION
      NEEDS YOUR HELP!
      USEING HELYXZION TECHNOLOGY WE CAN CURE “ALL” DISEASE
      REGENERATE LOST LIMBS
      REBUILD DAMAGED ORGANS
      CREATE NANOTECHNOLOGIES THAT WILL SAVE LIVES
      YOU CAN HELP MAKE IT HAPPEN AND MAKE YOURSELF MONEY AT THE SAME TIME JUST FOLLOW ONE OF THESE LINKS:
      MAKE MONEY AND HELP CURE DISEASE:

      So curing all disease wasn’t enough for our intrepid CEO, he is now going to solve our energy problems as well. Quite the polymath we have here…

      It is scary that people buy this guys snake oil. Wards Auto should hang their heads in disgrace for being duped so easily by this nonsense. He is just repackaging some buzzwords and throwing in some facts out of context (mixed in with outright nonsense).

      He really isn’t even a very good scammer, only natural dupes should fall for this, but sadly we have too many of those.

  • avatar
    Bytor

    Some more digging I found Press releases of partnerships with Stevens previous company Helyxzion. I wondered who would partner with an obvious scam. The thing is all those partners appear to have evaporated as well into dead link land. Though I did find a trail on this one (lots of press releases still available):

    http://www.prweb.com/releases/2006/03/prweb360691.htm
    “Helyxzion and Telomolecular Announce Strategic Partnership
    According to Chief Executive Officer, Matthew A. Sarad, “Helyxzion’s technologies are able ….”

    Followed by SEC litigation against Sarad for stock fraud:
    http://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2008/lr20745.htm
    SEC Charges California Biotechnology Company for Fraudulent Stock Scheme

    The SEC alleges that Telomolecular and its founder and former CEO, Matthew A. Sarad of Folsom, Calif., induced hundreds of investors nationwide to purchase $6.5 million worth of shares of Telomolecular stock. According to the SEC’s complaint, Telomolecular and Sarad falsely claimed the company was backed by a deep management and scientific team, generating significant industry interest in its technologies, and prepared to obtain financing from substantial institutions. Instead, the complaint alleges that the company lacked the management professionals and extensive scientific staff it claimed, the supposed interest in its technologies did not exist, and the potential source of financing it touted was a sole proprietorship with no assets.

    It is a sad state of “Journalism” today that Wards will publish “too good to be true” tech stories that should immediately send your scam meter into the red, without any background checks and that should have revealed a web of scams/fraud. This bored auto fan only wasted about 20 minutes with Google to dig this up. Any “journalist” who valued their integrity should have done at least this much. I am sure there is much more…


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