Laser Power Systems (LPS) from Connecticut, USA, is developing a new method of automotive propulsion with one of the most dense materials known in nature: thorium. Because thorium is so dense it has the potential to produce tremendous amounts of heat. The company has been experimenting with small bits of thorium, creating a laser that heats water, produces steam and powers a mini turbine. Current models of the engine weigh 500 pounds, easily fitting into the engine area of a conventionally-designed vehicle. According to CEO Charles Stevens, just one gram of the substance yields more energy than 7,396 gallons (28,000 L) of gasoline and 8 grams would power the typical car for a century.
The idea of using thorium is not new. In 2009, Loren Kulesus designed the Cadillac World Thorium Fuel Concept Car. LPS is developing the technology so it can be mass-produced. According to Robert Hargraves, “low or non-CO2 emitting energy sources must be cheaper than coal or will ultimately fail to displace fossil fuels.” The United States uses 20% of the world’s energy today and, according to Hargraves, if it cut its CO2 emissions to zero, 80% produced by other countries would still be a problem. With CO2 emissions climbing seemingly beyond all bounds, pessimism is rampant and bold ideas are needed.
Thorium may also be the answer to the world’s nuclear energy conundrum, it produces 10 to 10,000 times less long-lived radioactive waste. Thorium mining produces a single pure isotope, whereas the mixture of natural uranium isotopes must be enriched to function in most common reactor designs. The same cycle could also use the fissionable U-238 component of the natural uranium, and also contained in the depleted reactor fuel;