Chevron Corporation made a Series A investment in Zap Energy Inc., a Seattle-based start-up company developing a next-generation modular nuclear reactor with an innovative approach to advancing cost-effective, flexible, and commercially scalable fusion.
Zap Energy will use the funds raised in this round to continue technology development and grow its development team.
Conventional nuclear power uses nuclear fission which involves the splitting of a large unstable nucleus into smaller elements and generates long-lived radioactive waste. Nuclear fusion occurs when nuclei of lightweight elements (typically hydrogen) collide with enough force to fuse and form a heavier element—a process that releases substantial amounts of energy with no greenhouse gas emissions and limited long-lived radioactive waste.
Viable fusion energy approaches must confine high-temperature plasmas at sufficient density for long durations. Mainstream approaches to fusion have not achieved energy breakeven performance and each has significant drawbacks.
Founded in 2018, Zap Energy’s technology stabilizes plasma using sheared flows rather than magnetic fields to confine and compress the plasma. Driving electric current through the flow creates the magnetic field, which confines and compresses the plasma. The higher the current, the greater the pressure and density in the plasma.
The plasma confinement technology is an extension of work originally pioneered by the FuZE team at the University of Washington and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, funded by the US Department of Energy since 1998.
By stabilizing the plasma with a sheared flow—that is, with plasma flowing at different velocities at different radii—the high-temperature, high-density reactive medium can be confined long enough for the fusion reactions to occur.
The Zap Energy team says that its reactor is the least expensive, most compact, most scalable solution with the shortest path to commercially viable fusion. Based on progress to this point, Zap says that it is on track to reach Q=1 energy breakeven plasma conditions.
Zap Energy was a top ARPA-E ALPHA Program performer, leading to significant additional ARPA-E OPEN and BETHE Program funding. It is now backed by an energy and technology-focused investor base, including Chevron.
Chevron Technology Ventures’ says that its investment in fusion is an opportunity to enhance the company’s focus on a diverse portfolio of low-carbon energy resources with the capacity to provide communities across the globe access to affordable, reliable, and ever-cleaner energy.
We see fusion technology as a promising low-carbon future energy source. Our Future Energy Fund investment in Zap Energy adds to Chevron’s portfolio of companies we believe are likely to have a role in the energy transition.—Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures
This investment marks the 10th investment by Chevron’s Future Energy Fund, which was launched in 2018 to explore breakthrough technologies that enable macro decarbonization, the mobility-energy nexus, and energy decentralization.
“A Compact Fusion Device based on the Sheared Flow Stabilized Z-Pinch” ALPHA Annual Review Meeting 2017