(ORDO NEWS) — Startup Zap Energy is trying to induce nuclear fusion reactions using one of the most unpopular approaches. The company also plans to make the reactors very compact.
Fusion seems like something out of the realm of fantasy, but very soon garage-sized installations can replace huge power plants.
Nuclear fusion research aims to recreate the process that occurs in the Sun: high temperature and pressure create a plasma in which hydrogen nuclei fuse to form helium and release energy.
Most of the efforts in this area are focused on creating high-temperature plasma flows into reactors having the shape of a torus (doughnut) or a twisted loop.
This requires heavy-duty magnets, usually on superconductors. It is this synthesis method that underlies the operation of ITER – the international thermonuclear reactor. The completion of its construction is scheduled for 2025.
Small fusion reactor
The Z-pinch method, which startup Zap Energy uses in its technology, is a completely different approach, which in the long run may turn out to be cheaper and more efficient.
This is because, instead of complex networks of expensive magnetic coils and shielding materials, Z-pinch systems rely on an electromagnetic field that is generated within the plasma itself.
It holds the plasma in place within a relatively small volume and “compresses” it until it is hot and dense enough for nuclear fusion.
Of course, the Z-pinch method, which has been developed since the 1950s, had its own obstacles in implementation – the plasma inside such a reactor was unstable.
However, in 2019, physicists found a solution to this problem by smoothing out plasma flows using hydrodynamic methods. One of the authors of this work co-founded the startup Zap Energy in 2017.
The company has now said it has reached a key milestone in its journey by creating the first high-temperature plasma inside a prototype reactor, dubbed FuZE-Q.
It is reported that the reactor is already capable of creating plasma with a current strength of 500 kiloamperes, and in the next generation this figure is planned to be increased to 650 kiloamperes – according to calculations, this will be the break-even point of the reactor, upon reaching which it will generate more energy than it consumes.
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