Zap Energy said its experimental reactor core was ready for a milestone test. Skeptics routinely question whether the technology is currently possible.
Zap Energy, a fusion energy start-up working on a low-cost path to producing electricity commercially, said last week that it had taken an important step toward testing a system its researchers believe will eventually produce more electricity than it consumes.
That point is seen as a milestone in solving the world’s energy challenge while it moves away from fossil fuels. An emerging global industry composed of almost three dozen start-ups and heavily funded government development projects is pursuing a variety of concepts. Zap Energy, based in Seattle, stands out because its approach — if it works — would be simpler and cheaper than what other companies are doing.
Today’s nuclear power plants are based on fission, which captures the energy released by splitting atoms. In addition to intense heat, byproducts of the process include waste that remains radioactive for centuries. Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, replicates the process that takes place inside the sun, where gravitational forces fuse hydrogen atoms into helium.