Z machine scientist examines one of the aluminum cylinders used in the Z pulsed power experiments. The monitor on the X-ray machine in the background displays a highly magnified, pre-experiment view of the wavering edges machined into the outside edge of the cylinder. These were used to intentionally start the growth of the instability. Read more:

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.

Z Machine’s Electrical Power

Z compresses energy in time and space to achieve extreme powers and intensities, found nowhere else on Earth.

  • Z is the world’s most powerful pulsed-power facility and X-ray generator
  • Each Z machine experiment uses about the same amount of energy as a 100-watt light bulb on for 2 days
  • Z stores this energy around its perimeter (about 100 feet across)
  • It takes about 2 minutes for the Z machine to charge up and store this energy for an experiment
  • When Z fires, it releases this stored energy so fast, that the generated electrical power is more than all the power plants in the world combined for that brief moment in time (~100 nanoseconds)
  • Z’s peak electrical power is about 80 trillion watts (all the power plants in the world combined generate about 15 trillion watts; an average lightning bolt is about 1 trillion to 100 trillion watts)
  • Z can also convert this electrical power into X-ray power for some applications and generate about 300 trillion watts of X-ray power