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Future fuels: Thorium, lasers, and electromagnets

Posted by Bill Griffith  September 6, 2011 12:25 PM

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Pies in the sky never seem to land on my plate, but two preposterous-sounding proposals passed my desk last week. Technological entrepreneurs make for interesting proposals.

The first came from General Electric's Txchnologist, a forward-thinking digital magazine that looks at the wide world of science and technology and isn't limited to GE-focused stories. It talks about an electrical generating plant, conceived by Laser Power Systems in Sturbridge, that would be based on laser-heated thorium to create pressurized steam in a closed-loop system to drive a turbine and turn an electrical generator.

Theoretically, it claims, a 250-kilowatt unit (equivalent to about 335 horsepower) would weigh about 500 pounds and be small enough to put under the hood of a car.

LPS claims that eight grams of thorium used to power the unit would have the equivalent of 60,000 gallons of gasoline and "fuel" the car for 5,000 hours or about 300,000 miles of normal driving.

Now my high school physics class was geared for non-science students but I know that 5,000 hours at 60 mph would be 300,000 miles. However, most cars average somewhere just above 30 mph in all-around driving so we'll knock that 300,000 down to somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 miles.

Pie in the sky? Who knows. But Cadillac did produce a concept car in 2009 that could be thorium-powered.

Our second is a claim by Advantron Technologies in West Bloomfield, Mich., that claims to have a patent-pending electromagnetic engine/generator technology that will "allow us to reach our goal of a 700-1000 mile range before needing complete recharging ... and make the EV (electric vehicle) business model realistic." No word on what type of batteries are involved.

We'll leave it to the folks who actually advanced beyond that physics class to see if either system becomes commercially viable.

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