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Electrode Technology Development for the Sheared-Flow Z-Pinch Fusion Reactor

Zap Energy
ARPA-E Award: 
Seattle, WA
Project Term: 
07/30/2019 to 07/29/2022
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Fusion energy research has been ongoing since the 1950s, with significant recent advances. To achieve fusion, plasma fuel is compressed and heated, causing its nuclei to fuse. To maintain the high temperatures and plasma density necessary for fusion to occur, some fusion power-plant designs must be very large and complex, which is expensive. Designing an economically competitive fusion power plant has proved elusive so far.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
Zap Energy will advance the fusion performance of the sheared-flow stabilized (SFS) Z-pinch fusion concept. While the simplicity of the Z-pinch is attractive, it has been plagued by plasma instabilities. Like traditional Z-pinch approaches, the SFS Z-pinch drives electrical current through a plasma to create magnetic fields that compress and heat the plasma toward fusion conditions. The innovation of the SFS Z-pinch is the velocity gradient across the radius of the Z-pinch--in other words, the outer edge of the plasma column is moving at a different velocity than the center--which stabilizes the plasma instabilities of traditional Z-pinches. In this project the team will raise the electrical current of their SFS Z-pinch, reduce physics risks relating to plasma stability and confinement, and develop the electrode technology and plasma-initiation techniques necessary to enable the next steps toward a functional SFS Z-pinch fusion power plant. This could provide nearly limitless, on-demand, emission-free energy with negligible fuel costs.
Potential Impact: 
Zap Energy's work will validate a new type of Z-pinch approach, enabling a low-cost, rapid development path towards economical fusion power.
Zap Energy's innovation could accelerate the development of cost-effective fusion power plants, which could provide a nearly limitless supply of domestic power and eliminate dependence on foreign energy sources.
Fusion power plants offer nearly zero emissions and produce manageable waste products. If widely adopted, they could significantly reduce or nearly eliminate carbon emissions from the electricity generation sector.
Zap Energy's approach, if viable, could enable a low-cost path to fusion, reducing research costs to develop economical fusion energy and helping enable a domestic fusion energy industry.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Scott Hsu
Project Contact: 
Dr. Brian Nelson
University of Washington
Release Date: