Zap Energy has received a $160 million investment to build the first commercial version of a small, compact fusion reactor. This comes after a prototype reactor called FuZE-Q created a record-breaking stable plasma column last week. At the next step, the creators of the device hope to break even, after which it will become possible to create a source of unlimited energy.
The FuZE-Q reactor is based on the principle of the Z-machine, which can be called an alternative to the tokamak. Here, the "pinch effect" is used, in which a powerful magnetic field is formed in the electrically conductive plasma column due to its own electrical impulse. It heats up and compresses the plasma at the same time, so if a deuterium and tritium target is placed inside the column, the pressure and temperature can start a thermonuclear reaction.
The pinch effect has been known for more than half a century, but the instability of the plasma column for a long time did not allow the creation of a full-fledged reactor. The task was solved by scientists from the University of Washington in 2019 using shear flows, which made it possible to smooth out distortions and fluctuations in the plasma flow. One of them, Uri Shumlak, founded Zap Energy to monetize the invention.
On the FuZE-Q prototype, an electric current of 500 kiloamperes was obtained, which was a record for such systems. However, the technology itself is designed for a current of 650 kiloamperes and, according to calculations, this is the threshold for reaching the break-even point. If the scientists and engineers at Zap Energy manage to cross it, they can build relatively cheap, simple, safe, and compact fusion reactors that anyone can install in their garage.