Picture of Z Machine

Z machine contributes to clean-energy technologies

The importance of Z in solving the world’s energy challenges is directly connected to its fusion potential. Inertial confinement fusion for peaceful production of electricity has always been of interest to Sandia’s pulsed power sciences. But today, in light of growing concern about the health of our planet and considering our escalating energy needs, the development of fusion technology is especially promising for several reasons

First, the fuel needed for fusion is virtually limitless — deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, is abundant in seawater; tritium is bred in the fusion power plant process.

Half a bathtub full of seawater in a fusion reaction could produce as much energy as 40 train cars of coal.

Reducing waste and air pollution

The fusion reaction is a good alternative to combustion because fusion doesn’t involve burning fuel, which means it doesn’t contribute to air pollution. Finally, the fusion energy production process creates virtually no radioactive waste, which makes fusion a good alternative to fission, the method currently used in nuclear power plants, which does produce long-lived radioactive waste.

The ability to get useable energy out of a fusion reaction is the “Holy Grail” in fusion physics. In order to produce and use fusion energy, a process involving very high temperatures and densities must be contained and controlled. Beyond the challenges faced by researchers trying to achieve inertial confinement fusion, scientists working on fusion energy have to figure out a way to produce inertial confinement fusion events at a high enough rate and with enough efficiency to be useful as a power source.

Currently, the Z machine can fire once a day. A fusion energy machine would have to fire around six times per minute, capture the energy from the shots, and then transmit it to a power-producing system.