Thorium based energy economy?

Climate Change / Peak Oil / Science

Here’s an interesting idea. Apparently there’s a company in the US that is about to release a small power generating device capable of providing up to 250 megawatts of power in a 500 pound unit small enough to fit in the engine compartment of a car.

The device uses Thorium, a relatively common rare-earth element. The US leads the world in thorium reserves.

“The key to the system developed by inventor Charles Stevens, CEO and chairman of Connecticut-based Laser Power Systems, is that when silvery metal 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, Stevens tells Ward’s. These create steam from water within mini-turbines, generating electricity to drive 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 Stevens says. So, using just 8 gm of thorium in a car should mean it would never need refueling.”

More here.

Assuming this is plausible and economically viable, this is kind of a big deal.

The power of a 747 jet at take off is about 100 megawatts. This would generate more than twice that. Imagine how much more a jet could carry without needed to lift all that fuel… Or imagine buying a car that would never need to be refueled. (A few grams of thorium would easily power it for the useable life time. 1 gram of thorium has the energy equivalent of 7500 gallons of gasoline.)

Or, think what you could do with powering houses off grid with a fuel station like this. Actually, forget houses. A small 500 lb generator could supply everything a small city needs.

The big issue with this would be managing exhaust heat. Thorium and uranium decay are the chief cause of the the planetary interior heating. It’s where the lava comes from.

The upshot is energy for all. The downside is this would accelerate heat-death due to the second law of thermodynamics.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Seems implausible. If each atom generated 10 eV (typical of chemical reactions) 1 g Th < 0.1 mole would only produce 1,000 J or 1 KW for 1 sec. Even if we got 10 MeV per atom (typical nuclear energies), that is only 1MW for 1,000 sec. to get the energies they are talking about you would have to annihilate Th atoms.

  2. Bill Ghrist says

    Reading the linked article and some stuff written by Charles Stevens, it has all the earmarks of a scam. He mixes some actual information about Thorium based nuclear power with off-the-wall stuff about what happens when you heat Thorium, and tries to make one think that this scheme can generate nuclear fission levels of energy from a non-nuclear process. Read what he says about the conservation of energy and see whether you think he is presenting legitimate scientific facts.

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