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Science Fiction? Or Will This Fuel Really Power Future Generations?

Photo credit: Flickr/Milan Klusacek

I'm a firm believer that America's fuel of the future is already here. That fuel, in my opinion, is natural gas. It's clean, abundant, cheap and made right here in the good ole U.S.A.

Auto makers like Ford (NYSE: F  ) and General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) are starting to catch on and are building more vehicles that will run on natural gas. That's why sales of Ford's popular F-150 could soon be fueled by natural gas. Likewise, General Motors' latest move has it looking to leap past Ford by selling its fleet footed Chevy Impala with the option of running on natural gas.

This isn't to say that electric vehicles like Tesla's (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) Model S or even General Motors' Chevy Volt or Spark EV won't have a place. In fact, Tesla's bold goal to produce half a million EVs per year would actually be a good thing for our electric grid. That said, I still see natural gas playing a huge future role in fueling our country. Even if it's not directly fueling all of our automobiles, it will fuel an increasing number of power plants that will then be used to power electric cars.

I am, however, no fool (note the small f) to think that natural gas will last forever. Current estimates suggest that we have about a hundred year supply. That's why natural gas is at best our bridge fuel until something better comes along.

Maybe that something better is electric vehicles that are one day powered by solar or even hydrogen fuel cells. However, I read something the other day that made me dream about what might really be our next generation fuel. The article detailed the possibility that thorium might one day fuel our future.

Thorium is one of the densest materials known to man. Because of this, it has the potential to produce phenomenal amounts of heat. This in theory could enable a car to be built that would only have to be fueled once per century. Sounds like science fiction, but the science behind it is real. In fact, in 2009 a Cadillac Thorium Fuel Concept Car was developed, and today a private company is looking to develop a mass-market thorium powered car.

Thorium actually has much wider, and probably more realistic applications. It could be the long-term solution to the issues we have with nuclear power as it wouldn't meltdown, since it cannot sustain a nuclear reaction. The U.S. government actually was developing thorium reactors shortly after the Second World War, but that project was mothballed thanks to the onset of the Cold War. It's possible that we will once again attempt to harness the power of thorium in our battle against diminishing natural resources and worries of climate change.

It's still anyone's guess what will be fueling our future in the decades ahead. No one saw the current natural gas boom coming as just a few short years ago we thought we were running out of the stuff. Instead, American energy companies have unlocked vast resources that are at the very least the near-term solution to our energy issues. So, while its fun to dream, we can only profitably invest in the here and now. 

Invest in the boom no one saw coming

While it's fun to dream about the future, oil and gas is what will fuel our economy for a long time. Right now record oil and natural gas production is revolutionizing the United States' energy position. It's the boom that no one saw coming. There's still a chance for you to profit from the boom. To do so check out the special free report, "3 Stocks for the American Energy Bonanza." Don't miss out on this timely opportunity; click here to access your report -- it's absolutely free. 

Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On November 10, 2013, at 2:27 PM, mikeflores2000 wrote:

    Thorium appears to warrant further research.

  • Report this Comment On November 10, 2013, at 6:19 PM, aalter wrote:

    Isn't Thorium radioactive?

  • Report this Comment On November 10, 2013, at 8:12 PM, Cakmakli wrote:

    The real problem with Natural Gas is the lack of infastructure. I drive an RV and have a LP gas tank. In order to fill it you have to have special equipment and a person who is certified in it's operation. The same applies to LNG. No self service for this stuff. Equiping gas stations will be costly and having certified people in attendance 24/7 will be even more expensive. Not insurmountable but it will drive the price up.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2013, at 1:28 AM, cyberblade6669 wrote:

    not to mention have you ever seen a propane tank go no thank you .

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2013, at 1:43 AM, JohnMZ87 wrote:

    Posted this story about two or three days ago on my face book, not the first nuclear or turbine powered automobile idea, if you know cars, you will know they tried this before...

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2013, at 9:34 AM, ivanbial wrote:

    Every car store in the U.S. needs to install a natural gas filling system. then watch every gas station play catchup and intall systems

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2013, at 11:48 AM, learytet wrote:

    Thorium 232 as an energy source derives from its capabality of absorbing a neutron to become uranium 233, a fissile material (even more fissile than uranium 235, the stuff of a -bombs)

    There already is some experience with the use of Thorium in HTGR's (high temperature gas cooled reactors). Here it is mixed with uranium 235 which initiates the nuclear reaction. As that reaction progresses, some of the thorium becomes U233,

    which then also serves to continue to fuel the reaction.

    But this is all nuclear reactor stuff - not the kind of thing that can be stuffed directly into your car

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2013, at 1:48 PM, jeffhre wrote:

    Very true Matthew. Natural gas is the bridge fuel to the future. Has been for the last decade. Since we are often able to see trends clearly about eight years after they break. Your insights are quite prescient.

    Hydro-fracking led to a tremendous expansion of US NG supplies and drove down prices. NG at one point was used for nearly 35% of all US electricity generated. A little less now, since NG prices have risen. Prices were too low for many drillers to even create a sustainable business.

    IMO, at this point the vision of clean energy starting with Tesla and Edison, regarding power from the sun, is the direction we will look toward in the coming decade. Wind is now at price parity with NG. Solar is now below peak hours pricing for conventional electricity generation.

    Renewable energy accounts for about 15% of US electricity generation in 2013, and is decreasing in price, while NG costs are rising. Amazingly, in 2013, we still have islands that rely on petroleum for electricity generation. At this time Hawaii and Nantucket are in the process of converting to renewables, from existing petroleum based electricity generation.

    Hawaii has some wind, a little geothermal, and is seeing an explosion of solar. And Cape wind is completing it's final financing and construction planning, which will power Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket island. Each has continued past the NG era toward renewables in their near futures.

    Thorium has tremendous potential, with molten salt reactors having the capability to address many of the difficulties of current reactor technology. Though, it would take a complete reversal from 50 years of established US nuclear technology, infrastructure and operations to deploy.

    "But this is all nuclear reactor stuff - not the kind of thing that can be stuffed directly into your car"

    Yes, learytet that's nearly universally true, even though Tesla (and other makes) owners can, and are now stuffing this directly in their cars.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2013, at 7:27 AM, Rodney7777 wrote:

    Here is a quote for today's WSJ.

    Even with solar power's rapid growth in recent years—the U.S. Energy Information Administration says solar generation capacity should reach 14 gigawatts by the end of this year, a more than fivefold increase from 2010—it remains a tiny part of the U.S.'s overall energy mix at less than 1%. That should rise to 4% by 2040, based on EIA projections. End quote.

    The five fold increase ( I think they are talking about U S increase ) is probably right as solar energy output is doubling every 2 years. The "less that one percent of overall energy mix' sounds right too. Others have this number at .075 or .07. The 4% by 2040 is wrong.

    Doing the math then. Using .07% and doubling it every 2 years, the world will have 100% of its power coming from solar in less than 15 years. Like the internet, it will come out of nowhere to be the number one source of energy. Clean, quiet, and locally produced, this will revolutionize the world. My source on this is Ray Kurzweil, the inventor and author, who accurately predicted the emergence of the world wide web.

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