Zap Energy, a fusion energy startup working on a low-cost way to generate electricity commercially, said last week that it had taken a significant step toward testing a system whose researchers Thinks it will eventually generate more electricity.
This point is seen as a milestone in solving the world’s energy challenge as it moves away from fossil fuels. An emerging global industry consisting of about three dozen startups and heavily funded government development projects follow different concepts. Seattle-based Zap Energy stands out because its approach – if it works – will be easier and cheaper than what other companies are doing.
Today’s nuclear power plants are based on fusion, which derives the energy released from the distribution of atoms. In addition to the extreme heat, the by-products of this process include waste that remains radioactive for centuries. Atomic fusion, on the other hand, mimics the process that takes place inside the sun, where the forces of gravity fuse hydrogen atoms into helium.
For more than half a century, physicists have followed the vision of commercial power plants based on a controlled fusion reaction, primarily by bottling solar power. Such a power plant will generate many times more electricity than its use and without radioactive by-products. But no research project has come close to the target. Yet, as the fear of climate change grows, so does the interest in technology.
“We think it’s important that fusion be part of our energy mix,” said Benj Conway, president of Zip Energy.
Although many competitive efforts use powerful magnets or laser light bursts to compress plasma to initiate fusion reactions, Zap adheres to the approach proposed by physicists at the University of Washington and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Paragraph
It relies on one-size-fits-all plasma gas – a powerful cloud of particles, often referred to as the fourth state of matter – which compresses through a two-meter vacuum tube through an electromagnetic magnetic field. happens. This technique is known as “shared flow Z-punch”.
Zap Energy’s way of “clicking” is not new. It may have been seen in the effects of lightning strikes in the early 18th century and has been proposed as a fusion energy route since the 1930s. While clicks occur naturally in electric shocks and solar flares, the challenge for engineers is to stabilize electrical and magnetic forces in pulses long enough – measured in millionths of a second. Is – so that radiation can be generated to heat the membrane around the molten metal.
The company has successfully incorporated plasma into a new and more powerful experimental reactor core, said Brian Nelson, a retired University of Washington nuclear engineer and chief technology officer at Zip Energy. It is now completing a power supply designed to allow the company to prove that it can generate more energy than it uses.
If their system proves viable, Zap researchers say, it will be less expensive than competing systems based on magnet and laser captivity. It is expected to cost about the same as conventional nuclear energy.
Researchers attempting to design a Z-pinch have found it impossible to stabilize plasma and have abandoned the idea of a magnetic point, called a tokamac reactor.
Advances in stabilizing the magnetic field, resulting from floating plasma created by physicists at the University of Washington, led the group to establish Zap Energy in 2017.
According to the Fusion Industry Association, recent technological advances in fusion fuels and advanced magnets have led to a significant increase in private investment. There are 35 fusion companies worldwide, and private funding has exceeded $ 4 billion, from leading technology investors such as Sam Altman, Jeff Bezos, John Doer, Bill Gates and Chris Saka. Mr. Gates and Mr. Saka invested in Zap’s most recent funding round.
But there are still voices that argue that advances in fusion energy research are largely a mirage and that recent investments are unlikely to translate into commercial fusion systems anytime soon.
Last fall, Daniel Jasby, a retired plasma physicist at Princeton University, wrote in a newsletter for the American Physical Society that the United States is in the midst of another era of “fusion energy fever,” which has been raging every decade since the 1950s. Comes and goes. He argues that the claims of startups that they are successfully on the path to building systems that generate more energy than they consume are in fact baseless.
“These claims are widely accepted only because of the effective propaganda of promoters and laboratory interpreters,” he wrote.
Zip Energy physicists and executives said in interviews last week that they believe they are within a year of proving that their vision is capable of reaching the long-desired energy break point.
If they do, they will succeed where a series of research efforts – going back to the middle of the last century – have failed.
Zip Energy physicists say they have made a case for the “scaling” power of their vision to create a tremendous increase in neutrons in a series of peer-reviewed technical papers that include computer-generated simulations. Has been documented which they will soon begin to examine.
The power plant version of the system will cover the reactor core to move the molten metal to catch the neutron explosion due to the extreme heat, which will be converted into steam which will generate electricity.
Each reactor core will generate about 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power at least 8,000 homes, said Ori Shimlak, a physicist and University of Washington professor who co-founded Zap Energy.
He said that now his technical challenge is to verify what he has copied through computer. This will include ensuring that the Z-punch fusion section of the plasma remains stable and is able to design an electrode that can survive in the intense fusion environment of the reactor.
Mr Conway said he hoped that, unlike previous large, high-cost development efforts, Zap would be able to quickly prove its mettle, which would be like “building a ڈالر 1 billion iPhone prototype every 10 years”. Is.