Molly Cotter

Laser Power Systems is Developing Cars Fueled by Nuclear Power

by , 09/04/11
filed under: Green Transportation, News

thorium, nuclear power, thorium laser, nuclear powered car, electric car, Laser Power Systems, laser powered

There may finally be a way to power your car forever — the only catch is that the fuel would be radioactive. Charles Stevens of Laser Power Systems (LPS) is working on creating an emissions free turbine/electric generator powered by nuclear thorium lasers. Though thorium is gaining a reputation as the “safe” nuclear element, with all the recent controversy surrounding nuclear power, we at Inhabitat wonder if it’s worth the risk.



thorium, nuclear power, thorium laser, nuclear powered car, electric car, Laser Power Systems, laser powered

Thorium is a slightly radioactive element that is incredibly abundant in parts of India. It was used as a back up power source to uranium and plutonium during World War II and though it is lighter and safer than those other materials, developments were never truly carried out with it mainly because of its inability to be weaponized. A laser produced by thorium is also unique – it does not produce a beam of light like most lasers, but instead emits a wave of heat that gives off incredible amounts of energy.

Stevens predicts that his thorium laser powered generator will weigh about 500 pounds and fit under the hood of a car. He has calculated that one gram of the element produces the equivalent of 7,500 gallons of gasoline, meaning only 8 grams of thorium could power a car for 300,000 miles.

Though Stevens is certainly at the forefront of actually developing this technology, the idea of a nuclear powered car is not new. In 2009, Cadillac announced their World Thorium Fuel concept car at the Chicago Auto Show. Though it did not contain any of the technology to power the car, the idea itself was enough to build a vehicle for.

As for our reaction, the concept car’s abbreviated name, the Cadillac WTF, seems rather fitting.

+ Laser Power Systems

Via txchnologist

images by Loren Kulesus

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11 Comments

  1. logical15 August 17, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    While everyone debates the idea of a nuclear car based around thorium, you might like to learn a little about lasers first, to be specific, you need to understand what a laser actually is. When you’ve done this, you’ll quickly find out that LaserPowerSystems is a scam, ‘Snake Oil’, whatever you want to call it.

    I work with lasers in the entertainment business and have been for the last 10 years+. Thorium is not a lasing medium and never will as it’s an opaque substance. The gain-medium needs to be transparent so light can freely travel within and amplify as the on-axis photons collide. Yes, there is a little more to this, you need very high quality mirrors at each end of the medium and the have to be exactly parallel with each other so the photons can bounce back and fourth without leaving the gain-medium medium.
    It is basically, optical feedback, much like what happens when you put a microphone near a speaker. The moment the slightest sound is picked up, feedback quickly sets sets in making that familiar whine etc. This is basically what happens in a laser, only, it happens light.

    The idea of using a non-lasing laser to generate heat to turn water into steam is equally pointless. Why? Well, a laser medium needs to be pumped with something. In the case of the well known ruby laser, this pump source is simply a VERY bright light, usually a high-powered zenon-flash like you have in a camera. There are also gasseous gain mediums such is CO2, Argon, Krypton, helium/neon etc and in this case, the medium is pumped with an electrical discharge directly, just like in a flash lamp only this discharge is continuous as is the laser beam emitted. All lasers have one thing in common and that is mirrors to setup the feedback within the gain-medium. This is basically how a laser works. What LaserPowerSystems is proposing is simply snake-oil since thorium cannot be made to lase. It’s interesting to note that a laser needs to be pumped. Just where do you think that energy comes from? While a laser beam may well be very intense, it still puts out far less watts in light than the energy in watts put in. Add in the fact that the idea is to make the thorium heat up, which then turns water to steam to spin a turbine and you’ll quickly see this is so inefficient as to be unworkable. The losses involved are huge to say the least.
    The other thing is that, even if thorium could be made to lase, without letting that beam escape, the lasing medium would be destroyed pretty much instantly. Anyway, it can’t as thorium, just like a chunk of metal that it is, light can’t travel within.
    Before someone comes along and tries to tell me that this laser doesn’t produce light, maybe it’s time to remind you what LASER actually stands for. Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

    What about that nice picture of the Cadillac World Thorium? Try talking to Cadillac. It was simply a nice picture and nothing to do with Cadillac at all, not least all this thorium rubbish.

    I’m not sure what the guy behind LaserPowerSystems get’s out of this. I can’t believe he will get any investment as the moment a prospective investor does any research (not a lot required) they’ll quickly discover how bogus this is. All I can think is this guy likes attention and everyone debating the topic is just pandering to him. Just hope he doesn’t plan on taking this to Dragons Den. It will be a prime lesson in humiliation !! Sorry :(

  2. tipton_wes July 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    I believe they intend to seal the Thorium in a lead container, which would probably be why it would only get 5mpg equivalency. Since this type of reactor won’t over heat because high temperature slows down the reaction they are safer than traditional reactors. Also the soft lead shielding is not very likely to be punctured in a collision. It might get a dent. I’ve seen molten aluminum shipping containers that have been drop tested form over 30 feet without breaking. So it’s a fuel that can’t be made into a bomb and it can provide huge amounts of power for years and it uses nuclear “waste” that would get buried somewhere anyway. Then it renders same waste into less harmful material. Sign me up!

  3. marcopolo September 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    _Alex_
    Jump off the Empire State Building with a backpack full of thorium contaminated baby powder and you become a (not very effective) ‘human dirty bomb’ dispersing radioactive material. Crashing your Cadillac WTF at speed would most probably spread some radioactive material. Smashing your Cadillac WTF into the back of a petrol tanker might be more effective, sure, but the principle’s the same. Thorium has a half like of 14 billion years. Most of it leaves the body pretty quickly but part can end up in bone and can cause cancer (bone, pancreas).
    Setting fire to a hybrid will produce some nasty stuff, but those pollutants and toxins won’t hang about for 14 000 000 000 years

  4. _alex_ September 6, 2011 at 9:44 am

    @marcopolo
    Since there is nothing combustive in a Thorium powered car, it’s hard to see how it could be come a ‘dirty bomb’..?? The type of radiation it gives off isn’t what most people should be afraid of. I’d say there’s something fundamentally wrong with driving a car loaded with an extremely explosive material like petrol, which in the case of an accident is very likely to cause far more death and destruction, though for some reason we ignore that fact every time we drive. We’ve rationalised driving a bomb in one form, why not in another?? Even the materials used in hybrids (batteries) have to be far more hazardous when they are burned. And looking at the bigger picture as ‘sttraveler’ suggests, the global and long term pro’s of such a device far out-weigh the cons.

  5. marcopolo September 5, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    This is an interesting article with a very impressive technology. Sorry youareme7 have have to disagree with your scathing comments on the article as there is something fundamentally wrong with driving around in a sportscar loaded with radioactive material – every car becomes a dirty bomb in an accident.
    That said it seems to me that this nuclear technology is a superior alternative to nuclear technology that can be use to weaponise nuclear material.
    M

  6. sttraveler September 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    @jesuguru
    while 5mpg may not seem like an impressive number look at the long term effect of the technology. The average passanger vehicle in US has an mpg rateing of 33.7 in 2010. That means 300,000 miles equals 8902 gallons of gas. One gallon of gas emits approximately 20 pounds of carbon emissions which means that those 300,000 miles would be 89 tons of carbon emissions which could be eliminated by 8 grams of Thorium.

  7. jesuguru September 5, 2011 at 5:15 am

    If one gram = 7500 gallons of gasoline, and eight grams = 300000 miles, then that assumes 5 MPG (7500 gallons = 37500 miles per gram). Unimpressive stat for a potentially impressive technology.

  8. _Alex_ September 5, 2011 at 3:24 am

    @mycrow, doesn’t that principle relate only to people in positions of power, with a total inability to understand the subject matter..?? Personally i’ve always thought that decisions shouldn’t be made until you are fully aware of the facts, and this principle makes it possible (for authorities) to make decisions without the facts, or even the necessary reasoning to comprehend the argument. I’m all for keeping the general populous from harm, but if the person in-charge isn’t capable then they shouldn’t be in-charge.. Just my opinion.

  9. mycrow September 4, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    @youareme7, please look into the Precautionary Principle.

  10. Calvin K August 31, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    oh definitely! I have always loath cars for their inefficient ways of converting energy for use (there are only so many ways you can combust fuels, and all of them waste most of the released energy). This shall be a huge improvements.
    Although the political and economical possibilities of this tech might prove more interesting.
    Finally….
    “…developments were never truly carried out with it mainly because of its inability to be weaponized” — ouch!

  11. youareme7 August 31, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    I’ve been a regular reader of Inhabitat for a pretty darn long time and this is the first post I’ve read that has truly disappointed me. I know that in order to be “green” doesn’t require any pragmatism toward the real world but just because you see the word “nuclear” doesn’t necessarily equate with “evil”. Thorium is uniquely suited to be a truly disruptive power technology that could actually replace base load power (something most renewables can’t do) that is currently run mostly by nasty coal plants and to a lesser extent shady natural gas plants. Thus far I’ve found Inhabitat to be run by people that are not only green, but also cognizant of how the world actually works. I quit reading TreeHugger because they degraded into “dumb hippies”, hopefully this article is an unfortunate judgement as opposed to a new philosophy.
    I do really love your site, I just happen to be a pretty big enthusiast for Thorium and this pushed my buttons.

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