September 26, 2011
UPDATE: I'm not finding much in the way of debunkery of this story online. Car and Tech blogs seem to be pretty sanguine about lasering thorium to power cars and one site that focuses on rare metals seems to think the lasing thing makes sense with Thorium.
I found little about the Doctor Charles Stevens mentioned in the many articles I perused below. However, I went to the Laser Power Systems site, which is pretty spartan unless one registers...I mean spartan as in there is NOTHING there. Well, I registered hoping to find patent, tech or business info.
After registering, if one clicks on "patents"one is taken to a page called the
Galactic Governments Patent Office
...which seems to be a separate website that is railing against new patent legislation....but has no patents. And there isn't much there. On the "News Feed"....I saw "Brickmuppet Registers" as the most recent news. The other site is LaserTurbinePower.com. Registering there takes one to a screen that is labeled Registered Users Area, but that's it...no links...nothing just a page that one has to register to access....with no info or business plan or catgirls or anything
I did track down this powerpoint online...which is an Laser Power Systems pitch from 2009 that contains a host of spelling errors and a working diagram that rivals the U.S. Department of Innovation's Logo for functionality.
One other thing (scarcely worth mentioning I'm sure).
Another Dr. Charles Stevens (who has the same contact phone number) is the founder of Helyxzion, LLC. This is claimed to be a genomics company and my undergraduate biology tells me that his biddness plan is...dubious. I also note that both of these Dr. Charles Stevenses (who share he same phone number) have been working in their respective fields since the mid-80's. I guess that apartment is just full of mad science...Wait...maybe its not an apartment...I'm now envisioning something along the lines of Conjectural Technologies.
Now can someone explain to me why no one from any of these rated sites did this cursory bit of research? It certainly doesn't excuse my screw up...but damn.
Of course it's not their fault I posted it. This screw up was in my post, on my blog and was my fault.
I apologize profusely to my readers for this post which I am now moving below the fold where it shall fester as a shameful reminder to all of my fallibility.
The Original Post:I Hope They Call it the Corvega
One of the Brickmuppets' Crack Team of Science Babes brings us some most unexpected news from the field of near-term gasoline alternatives.
First some background....
Widely anticipated in the 50's and early '60's the idea of a automobile that never needed refueling didn't get off the ground due to daunting technical difficulties and 10 cent a gallon gas. By the time of the oil crisis in the '70s, all aspects of the US nuclear program were hamstrung by luddites....(oh...and there was the minor fact that the nuclear car projects were stark raving cuckoo for cocca-puffs in that they planned on using an actual critical, fissioning uranium reactor...in a...ummm...car...during the time the industry was producing things like Corvairs.)
Fortunately technology marches on and the luddites have been too busy of late poisoning our ecosystem with mercury from CFL bulbs and getting rich off their carbon trading schemes to notice this awesome project.
Laser Power Systems says that thorium, when heated by an external source, itself gives off considerable heat. Thorium can be used to power a laser to superheat water into steam, turning minature turbines that create electricity to drive the car. In fact, according to researchers, a single gram (1g) of thorium holds the equivalent energy to 7,500 (!) gallons of gasoline, yet a gram of thorium costs just 25 cents. A500 poundgenerating unit producing 250 MW of energy should be small enough to fit under the hood of a small car, and is about the same weight as current car engines.
This is a noncritical nuclear reaction. It can't sustain itself without energy input but creates more energy than it produces. There is a minute amount of radioactivity but it is small enough that it can be shielded via aluminum foil*. The thorium, when it lases, gives off tremendous amounts of heat, so the idea is to use a steam plant to generate mechanical energy indirectly via a turboelectric system. I suppose its possible that a reciprocating direct drive system like the old Stanely Steamers would work as well.
All the articles describe a closed system but I'm not sure if they are including feed water in that. It may be that the boiler would need topping up with distilled water from time to time, but even this would be a huge improvement. This article says that the prototype is planned for 2014!
Thorium is very abundant particularly in the USA and India. It is also much safer to mine and handle than Uranium. In full on critical nuclear reactors it has lots of theoretical advantages in safety and nonproliferation over Uranium. There is a long article on this project here, which as an aside mentions why we've done so little with Thorium heretofore.
After World War II, a strategic decision was undertaken by industrialized nations to pursue uranium-driven energy instead, because its by-product – plutonium – could be weaponized. By contrast, it is almost impossible to make a bomb out of thorium.
Almost isn't completely. The Indians did it but it is fiendishly difficult, much more so than the Manhattan project.
None of this is of concern with this auto project, as the thorium in this plant is non-critical and just degrades.
Note that logically, if their weight estimates hold, we could see prop lanes powered by these power plants with global endurance. APUs and small scale power plants would seem to be logical beneficiaries as well.
I suspect, however, that this system would not scale up too far before it would become quite wasteful of Thorium., and that for larger scale applications Thorium is best used in the liquid flouride reactors referenced here.
There are more articles on this project here, here, and here.
*Now I'd be all for taking the performance hit of using 60 pounds of lead and a wrought iron casing for the thorium...just because.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Mon Sep 26 19:03:41 2011 (+rSRq)
Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Mon Sep 26 19:36:34 2011 (EJaOX)
In brighter news, you have a kaiju drop waiting for you on Billy.
Posted by: Pixy Misa at Tue Sep 27 02:33:44 2011 (PiXy!)
I first heard something about this roughly a year ago and it sounded awfully like the hafnium silliness. I didn't blog about it then because it seemed quite unlikely. Now though, this has at the very least got a lot of smart people interested.
As I understand it this involves getting the Thorium to lase, and what they are saying is that thorium lases strongly in the infrared. The heat it gives off is sufficient to generate enough steam to turn a generator that creates enough power to do work AND power the accelerator for the lasing of the thorium. This degrades the thorium over time.
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.
The same General Electric article also mentions that at least some radioactives like uranium have this property but that thorium lases without cryogenics.
This isn't a regular nuclear reaction though it seems that the lasing property is somehow tied to Thorium's radioactivity.
Most importantly they seem to have reproduced it and gotten the thorium part to work....the current hurdle is reported to be the closed cycle turbo-electric plant.
GM was actively pursuing this until 2009 (that may mean it was dropped when the Govt. bought them out).
It may not pan out either for technical or political reasons. Hell it could be cold fusion 2. We'll see.
Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Tue Sep 27 08:20:43 2011 (EJaOX)
The thorium stuff, though, looks like several unconnected things that have been incorrectly juxtaposed. You just can't get energy out of thorium that way. If you can make it lase (quite possible, lots of things can be made to lase) that doesn't produce energy, just focuses it. In fact, the process will lose energy (and convert it into heat). The only way to get energy out of thorium is through natural decay, which is far too slow, stimulated fission, which they're specifically not doing, or by setting it on fire. It does burn nicely, but it's not really an improvement over regular fuels.
I hate to rain on the nuclear-car parade, but the whole thing looks like a scam, hoax, or old-fashioned crackpot.
Posted by: Pixy Misa at Tue Sep 27 09:04:43 2011 (PiXy!)
Posted by: Pixy Misa at Tue Sep 27 09:10:20 2011 (PiXy!)
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