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Thorium laser car, yeah, right November 11, 2013

Posted by Maury Markowitz in Uncategorized.
Thorium powered car

Looks can be deceiving.

I never cease to be astonished at the total bologna that gets the bloggers all a Twitter. Oh I know all about link bait and click throughs and all that garbage, but still, don’t you want to avoid looking like a complete idiot?

Well apparently not, because the entire technosphere was blogrolling a story about a thorium powered car that never needs fuel, ever!



All the stories are exactly the same, as they all simply re-write each other, so I’ll just pick one representative sample. Our target for tonight is one David Schilling, who lists on his impressive blogging resume as “visiting MIT”. Sadly, actually attending MIT isn’t on there, which is too bad or maybe he’d realize it was a complete line of BS that he was regurgitating with the breathless anticipation of a prom queen. He’s not the only one of course, over on Mashable, liberal arts major Colin Daileda weights in with his identical version, while MSN, wisely, chose not to list the author of their photocopy.

What’s amusing is that if one simply takes a trip over to the Laser Power Systems web page, you’ll find a web site that is even less well presented than this one. It consists almost entirely of technobabble, bad 3D modelling and links to random unrelated web pages. Then there are the various grandiose claims about how they will “provide a growing tax base for the expansion of local infrastructure”, that they will “create an industrial base that will impact the world economy”, and, in the poorly formatted text at the bottom, that their “Research and development is powered by a engineering community of more than 8,000 highly skilled technical experts around the world.”

None of this set off alarm bells in anyone’s mind?!

It’s especially obvious something is amiss if you simply google the topic. Because then you’ll find that the exact same story was floated around the ‘net before, with equally sad results. For instance, here’s the same story in a 2011 post.

Do the math

Anyway, back to Schilling… let’s examine a typical bit of the technobabble he happily quotes:

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.

That sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? Well you know what I like to do in these cases, you do the math.

No really, do it

A quick trip to Google tells me that a gallon of gasoline, perfectly burned, yields 114,000 BTU. Use Google to convert that to more common physics terms, that’s 120 MJ, or in electrical terms, 33.3 kWh. A gallon of gas is enough to drive a car about 30 miles, on average.

An equally quick trip to the Wikipedia to look over thorium reveals that it releases energy over an extremely long period of time, just longer than the lifetime of the universe actually (yes, really), and gives off a total of 42.6 MeV. MeV’s are extremely small units, converting that means every complete decay would give off 6.8 x 10-18 MJ, or 2  x 10-18 kWh. That’s small.

Now that energy will, eventually, be released by every atom in that 8 grams of fuel. The number of atoms in anything is a basic relation between the atomic and measured weights. In the case of thorium, that means there are 2.6 x 1021 atoms per gram. Again, the Wiki and Google has all of this at your fingertips. So you simply multiply the two to find that a single gram of thorium contains 17,680 kWh of energy. Eight of them would give off 141,500 kWh. That’s a lot.

Ok, so if a car can go 30 miles on 33 kWh, and we have 141,500 to burn, that means the car could go maybe 128 thousand miles. Hmmm, things are sounding funny already, that’s the number of miles that would be driven in 5 years, not 100.

But wait one second…

No, actually, wait 4.4×1017 seconds. That’s because that energy will take an average of 14 billion years to come out of the thorium – actually that’s the time to get only half of it, but I’ll ignore that quibble for now.

So if we take that 141,500 kWh, and divide by 1.2 x 1014 hours, that’s 1.17×10-9 kW per hour.

You can convert Watts to horsepower by dividing by 750 (basically), so this is 1.5 trillionth of a horsepower.

Talk about pimping your ride!

But wait!

Now the thorium loving crowd reading this (all two of you, running the numbers) will complain that you don’t have to use natural decay to get the energy out – you can use simulated decay as you would in a nuclear reactor.

Sure, that’s true, but that’s not what the web site says. The web site basically invokes magic, saying the thorium powers a laser which heats water. That’s the entire description. Ummm, ok.

So to those people, would you like to see thorium reactor powered cars? Do you think such a thing is possible? Ok fine, do the math!

So, to conclude:

This story is complete BS, and the web page in question is precisely what it appears to be, made up of personal blog posts by a not particularly talented 3D “artist” who can’t figure out how to turn on his spell or grammar checking software, let alone the anti-aliasing feature of Autodesk.

There’s a whole lot of BS in the world, don’t get me wrong. And with the internet at our fingertips that BS gets spread around the planet in seconds. But that doesn’t absolve everyone of putting even the slightest effort into trying to figure out if the stories are true or not.

I did the math, but honestly, you don’t have to, just look at the LPS web site for 30 seconds and decide for yourself.

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1. Dingo - December 13, 2013

You could present your argument like the intelligent human being you are instead of ranting like an obnoxious fool. If that occurs, people may actually listen to you.

Dingo - December 13, 2013
Maury Markowitz - December 13, 2013

I couldn’t agree more! You should write LPS and get them to update their site.

That too is a joke. This is Energy Matters, not Do The Math. He’s much smarter that I am, so that niche is filled. My niche is the wiseass version, or as you put it, “ranting like an obnoxious fool”. So, basically, it’s working! Yay!

2. Okian Warrior - January 13, 2014

Is Thorium the end product? I thought Thorium would decay to Radium 228, which itself decays. Include the energy from the daughter products if you’re going to debunk this claim.

The thing about how long it would take for the energy to get out via decays is inappropriate. His claim of a Thorium laser does not mention details; for example, the Thorium could include a mix of Uranium 225, which would serve to induce a faster decay rate in the Thorium.

Perhaps he isn’t being specific on the website because the website is aimed at non-professionals, or because he’s found something useful and wants to keep it a business secret?

I don’t believe this guy is anything more than a fraud, but the tone of your prose is demeaning – not something you would typically get from a professional worthy of respect.

Maury Markowitz - January 13, 2014

“Include the energy from the daughter products if you’re going to debunk this claim”

I did. Did you take the “equally quick trip”?

“no more than a fraud, but the tone of your prose is demeaning”

Precisely. But make sure you understand who it’s directed at. I don’t care that someone put up a bologna web site, I care that “reporters” can’t tell the difference, or more likely, are too lazy = to check. These people are worthy of all the scorn we can heap upon them.

3. Maury Markowitz - February 26, 2014

OMG, I got onto The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe!


It’s about at the 3/5ths point.

4. Dudley - March 13, 2014

This thing is still making the rounds. People are dumb and that’s the point. Truth doesn’t matter on the intertubes…

5. Dave - March 19, 2014

Thanks for the breakdown.

“1.17×10-9 kW per hour” should be in just kW. I say this in full knowledge that I was too lazy to go out and do the math myself.

Maury Markowitz - March 19, 2014

Indeed, thanks for the correction!

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