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Friday, August 12, 2011

I Can Make No Sense Of The Retail Report

Somebody's crazy. Maybe it's me. Here's the report.

The more I look at this thing, the more confused I get. There were five weekends in July, so it ought to have been a good month.

Like take autos. According to Ward's (which, btw, is a very fun read. Thorium-powered cars?), July sales were good compared to YoY, although there was a shift from cars to domestic trucks in the mix. Still, I was expecting to see a rise in the month-to-month raw figures for MV, and now the unadjusted sequence May-July is reported at 70,070 > 70,747 > 69,910? Ward's reported raw unit sales higher for July than June. Then when you come to look at the pattern of adjusted vs raw figures, things get weirder yet. The adjustments are in the reverse pattern than normally.

Now I should go ahead and look up methodology and seasonal factors and see if there is a change, but you know what? I'm not going to. I'm just going to pull the raw figures for the last three years and work from them, although I have real doubts about the raw figures. The retail number is also confusing.

But first, I think we should all contemplate thorium-powered engines for commercial heavy vehicles. These now run off diesel. The engines should be heavy, but extraordinarily durable. The upfront investment would be significant, but one engine would actually power several vehicles sequentially. The impact on energy balance and oil-derived inflation of basic costs would be immensely positive. So the natural application is in heavy vehicles first, although any such unit could potentially pay off as a substitute for fossil-fuel powered boilers for space heating in commercial buildings and perhaps even homes.

Now if you read this blog you have got to be something of a nerd. Therefore, read about the thorium and think about the thorium:
“The issue is having a customized application that is purpose-made,” he says, admitting that developing a portable and usable turbine and generator is proving to be a tougher task than the laser-thorium unit.

“How do you take the laser and put these things together efficiently?” he asks rhetorically. But once that is achieved, “This car will run for a million miles. The car will wear out before the engine. There is no oil, no emissions – nothing.”

Stevens says his company should be able to place a prototype on the road within two years. The firm has 40 employees and operates out of an in-house research workshop.
The concerns about radioactivity are overblown, because this is not a nuclear reaction.

Rail kind of sucked this week, so I think we should all think about the thorium. What this guy is doing has multiple practical applications, and it sure sounds like a few private investors could make a good buck. Also it might be time to buy up potential thorium mining resources.


Comments:
I am a nuclear propulsion officer in the Navy. Without providing equations detailing the reactor taking place within the Thorium, I have to consider this article to be subpar. It simply doesn't make sense that you can heat Thorium and have it release energy without a change in atomic structure. Either the author doesn't really understand the process or the inventor is a charlatan.
 
Ditto. Can't tell if the author or the inventor is out to lunch.

However, assuming the inventor is on the level, I'd guess from the article that low power density is causing problems. His statement about having problems putting together a practical turbine and generator is the giveaway. If he doesn't already know how to do this, then his estimate of "2 years" to prototype is probably completely bogus.

There are a number of theoretical ways to deal with energy sources which are high energy density, but low power density. They're all in research-only or concept status, though.
 
"The concerns about radioactivity are overblown, because this is not a nuclear reaction."

I'm pretty sure that is incorrect. The energy density they are talking about only makes sense if there is a nuclear reaction involved. Plus, there's this from the article:

"Stevens agrees, emphasizing his system is "subcritical."

Note that "subcritical" means there *is* a nuclear reaction -- just not self-sustaining one. The article then goes on to say the following (which is a factually incorrect explanation of "subcritical"):

This means no nuclear reaction occurs within the thorium. It remains in the same state and is not turned into uranium 233, which happens only if thorium is sufficiently super-heated to generate a fission reaction."

But it gets worse, much worse...

"remains in the same state" is simply not possible -- any system has to contain less potential energy after you extract energy from it than it did before that extraction. (Otherwise you are talking perpetual motion machine and a repeal of the laws of thermodynamics.)

There are some other issues with the article, like talking about putting a 250MW (335 THOUSAND horsepower) engine in a car. This part is also *highly* suspicious (as it fits the template of a common misdirection tactic used by fraudsters):

admitting that developing a portable and usable turbine and generator is proving to be a tougher task than the laser-thorium unit.

And I guess here's the smoking gun:

Conservation of energy by Charles Stevens
[...]
In short, the law of conservation of energy states that energy can not be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another or transferred from one body to another, but the total amount of energy remains constant (the same).
[...]
This "Law" means that the universe does not exist, and that the big bang theory is totally wrong!


So, he's a self-confirmed crack-pot. (Note: Charles Stevens is the CEO of Laser Turbine Power which is allegedly developing this thorium-fueled engine.)
 
There's another problem with this engine concept. It's a heat engine, converting a heat difference into mechanical energy (work), which is then turned into electricity. Such a heat engine must be able to throw away its "waste" heat. In an internal combustion engine, you simply exhaust the used working fluid (combustion gases) and charge the engine with a new air-fuel mix. But in a closed-cycle engine, you need a heat exchanger. Heat exchangers are big and heavy. You can reduce the size needed somewhat by raising the temperature to which you expect the working fluid to be cooled, but that reduces the thermodynamic efficiency. It also makes things hotter, which increases the stress on everything.
 
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