Tiny block of thorium could power your car forever


Range is a huge concern for anyone driving an electric vehicle. The fear of running out of juice with no means to recharge is very real as charging stations aren't exactly common. A zero-emission car technology currently being developed by Connecticut-based company, Laser Power Systems, completely eradicates this concern. In fact, if the technology ever takes off, you might never have to refuel again.

So what is Laser Power Systems' fuel of choice, exactly? It's a heavy-metal element called thorium. And according to the company, eight grams of the silvery metal is enough to power a car throughout its lifespan. Included in the set-up needed to run the car is a laser that heats the thorium. The heat surges produced by the element create steam from the water within a mini-turbine, providing the energy needed to run the car.

Unfortunately, tapping into thorium as an energy source wouldn't be easy. The element is plentiful enough — the United States has an estimated reserve of 440,000 tons of thorium. But no large-scale facilities dedicated to mining thorium exist, and it would take a lot of money to establish mining operations. Also, thorium is a nuclear power source like uranium, and that could raise some concerns. It's worth noting, though, that the element exhibits little radioactivity. So little, that it can be contained easily by something as ordinary as aluminum foil.

While the technology sounds promising, it's clearly in its infancy and we're bound to wait for quite some time before we see results. Larger issues like where to get the thorium aside, Laser Power Systems still has to work on a turbine small enough to fit under a car's hood, but powerful enough to run the vehicle. The company's CEO wants you to mark your calendars, though — he expects to have a prototype out by 2014.

[Image source: Wikimedia Commons]


Post by Mariella Moon

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