Saturday, August 13, 2011


1958 Ford Nucleon model

The price of oil is on an upward spiral due to increasing demand and diminishing supplies. Short of finding vast new untapped reserves buried somewhere under out feet, we need to find an alternative sooner rather than later.

Charles Stevens is an inventor and CEO of Laser Power Systems. His idea is to replace the gasoline engine with an electricity generator that doesn’t require a battery. He is proposing the use of the rare earth mineral thorium in conjunction with a laser and mini turbines that easily produce enough electricity to power a vehicle.

Thorium is abundant and radioactive, but much safer to use than an element such as uranium. When thorium is heated it becomes extremely hot and causes heat surges allowing it to be coupled with mini turbines producing steam that can then be used to generate electricity. It also helps that it has a very large liquid range between melting and boiling point.

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.

Stevens has worked out you’d require a 227kg, 250MW thorium engine in order to power a typical road car. Within that system 1 gram of thorium produces the equivalent of 7,500 gallons of gasoline. So if you fit the Thorium engine with 8 grams of Thorium, it will run the vehicle for its entire lifetime without needing to be refueled while all the time not producing any emissions. The engine lasts so long in fact, that it could be taken from one vehicle and used in another as and when they wear out.

The issues to overcome are the radioactivity and the mining of thorium to make this engine possible. Stevens says the radioactivity can easily be contained with aluminium foil. As for the mining, the reserves are there, with 440,000 tons alone in the U.S., we just need the mining facilities to extract it in large enough quantities. With the potential benefits that is sure to happen.

Stevens admits that his biggest hurdle isn’t the thorium and laser aspects of the system, but the mini turbines which have to be made small enough to fit inside a vehicle while generating enough electricity. Even so, Stevens believes he’ll have a working prototype by 2014 and the potential to not only replace, but improve upon the gasoline-powered engines we rely on today.

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