Zap Energy’s reactor doesn’t need coils and magnets to create solar-like conditions. With a trick, the plasma is compressed accordingly.
Countless small companies around the world are working on commercial fusion reactors. The big international projects are all tokamak reactors, the basic structure of which was calculated by Soviet scientists as early as the early 1950s. In a donut-shaped ring, magnets are supposed to accelerate and condense the plasma. But what was the most elegant solution in theory proved treacherous in practice. To date, it has not been possible to develop this type of reactor beyond the status of an extremely expensive research project. The state projects are now making a new start with innovative magnets.
All the effort was and is accepted because nuclear fusion – if it is mastered – promises infinite amounts of climate-neutral energy. And the reactor itself works much safer than uranium reactors.
The Fast Track to Nuclear Fusion
The world’s startups have neither the money nor the patience for the tokamak reactors, they want to force the merger in some other way. Zap Energy is based on “Z-Pinch Technology”. The complex magnetic coils used in tokamaks are no longer necessary. A current in the plasma itself creates the magnetic field.
The company just builds up a small electromagnetic field that confines and squeezes the plasma in a small space. Until the conditions for the merger are met. “Z-Pinch has long been an attractive route to achieve nuclear fusion, but for many years researchers considered Z-Pinch’s plasma instabilities an insurmountable challenge,” said Shumlak, Chief Science Officer of Zap Energy.
“We have shown through both simulations and experiments that shear flows can stabilize fusion plasmas and that the stability should extend to a commercially viable scale. The Zap Energy team has made rapid strides since this technology left the laboratory, particularly through the recent growth of the team and investments.”
Magnetic field from the plasma
Z-pinch technology was also theoretically described as early as the 1950s, but because it was not possible to keep the plasma stable, people switched to tokamak technology. Here the magnets were better under control and could always generate a stable field.
It was only in 2019 that a group of researchers from the University of Washington, including Uri Shumlak, developed a method for smoothing the plasma currents using the Z-pinch method in order to avoid field distortions. In 2022, the first plasmas were generated in a prototype reactor. A cash injection of 160 million dollars is to be used to manufacture a commercial reactor. The company believes the complete reactor would fit in a garage. Such reactors could be manufactured in a factory and would be trucked to the destination.