How It Works

Sheared-flow-stabilized Z-pinch fusion doesn’t require magnets, cryogenics or high-powered lasers.

The Science of the Z Pinch

In 1905, two Australian scientists confronted a mystery: A lightning rod from a kerosene refinery had been crushed and twisted, as if gripped by some phenomenal force. The culprit was a bolt of lightning, whose strike created a magnetic field so powerful that the hollow metal rod crumpled inward like cardboard. It was a stark demonstration of what’s now called the pinch effect, or Z pinch — an electromagnetic phenomenon that enabled the earliest experiments in fusion and revealed the most promising path to building a working fusion generator today.

  • Electric currents create magnetic fields.

  • The Z-pinch effect is an electromagnetic phenomenon where electric currents create magnetic fields so powerful that they compress matter.

  • If you run a powerful enough current through plasma, a Z pinch can create conditions hot and dense enough for fusion.

Show More

Understanding Z-Pinch Fusion

The key to unlocking fusion energy is overcoming the forces that repel the nuclei at the centers of atoms. At extremely high temperatures and pressures, these nuclei get close enough to join together, or fuse, giving fusion its name.

That means fusion is the opposite of fission, which splits atoms apart, leaving radioactive waste behind that lasts for generations. Instead, it’s the process that fuels stars, balls of hot plasma so massive that their gravity creates enough heat and pressure for fusion, radiating huge amounts of energy into space. Here on Earth, Zap Energy’s technology uses the science of the Z pinch to create the conditions for fusion.

  • Fusion energy is created when the forces separating the centers of atoms are overcome and two smaller nuclei fuse into a larger one.

  • Zap Energy’s fusion technology is designed to heat deuterium and tritium to millions of degrees Fahrenheit until they fuse into high-energy helium and neutrons, which can be captured to generate heat and electricity.

  • Pound for pound, the fuel for fusion releases 10 million times as much energy as coal.

Show More

Zap's Key Innovation: Sheared-Flow Stabilization

Z-pinch fusion holds the potential to provide clean, long-lasting energy for humanity, without the expensive, problematic magnets required by traditional approaches to fusion. But the intense repelling forces in a teeming hot plasma make it hard to confine them together for more than an instant — much less sustain plasmas for long enough to create meaningful amounts of fusion energy.

While Z-pinch fusion was tested as far back as the 1950s, researchers were stymied by how quickly the plasmas fizzled out. Zap Energy solves that problem through sheared-flow stabilization — a plasma physics innovation that can theoretically extend the lifetime of a Z-pinched plasma almost indefinitely.

  • Keeping fusion reactions going is fundamentally difficult because plasmas quickly fizzle out.

  • Zap Energy’s key advance relies on considering the plasma as a dynamic moving flow, like a river.

  • Sheared-flow stabilization in a Z pinch — a plasma physics innovation pioneered by Zap Energy Co-Founder Uri Shumlak — can theoretically extend the lifetime of a Z-pinched plasma almost indefinitely.

Show More

How Zap's Devices Generate Fusion

Each Zap device is part accelerator, part reaction chamber— a scientifically-architected device developed to be at the heart of a Zap Energy plant. During two decades in Shumlak’s lab at the University of Washington, a series of lower energy cores proved that sheared-flow-stabilized Z-pinch fusion works.

  • Zap Energy’s team has built a series of devices to test sheared-flow-stabilized Z-pinch fusion.

  • The higher the current in the Z pinch, the hotter and denser the plasma will be.

  • FuZE-Q, the latest Zap core, was designed to reach the long-sought point of Q=1, or scientific energy breakeven.

Show More

Fusion Power Plants

When it comes to creating a commercial power plant, Zap Energy’s underlying technology offers major advantages. There’s no need for the giant facilities, superconducting magnets or high-powered lasers that other methods use. That means Zap Energy can be much smaller and more efficient, crucial attributes for the cost-effective, scalable systems needed to provide cheap energy and compete with other energy sources.

In order to get fusion on the grid as fast as possible, Zap Energy’s engineers are already developing and testing the auxiliary systems that will turn Z-pinch fusion into usable energy for society.

  • Z-pinch power plants have many advantages over traditional fusion approaches, including that they don’t require giant facilities, superconducting magnets or high-powered lasers.

  • Zap Energy’s engineers are currently developing and testing key auxiliary systems for the plant, including advanced power supplies and liquid metal walls.

  • With their small footprint, lack of emissions and on-demand operations, Zap Energy fusion plants could be located almost anywhere.

Show More

R&D at Work

Keep up with the latest