Fusion Energy is Coming: The Key Role of Power Electronics to Commercial Fusion - APEC 2024

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Fusion energy offers the potential for abundant, on-demand, carbon-free power. But for the past seven decades, fusion has largely been a scientific R&D effort restricted to national labs and universities. In recent years, however, things have begun to shift as private investors have begun backing an array of companies with plans for commercializing fusion — to the tune of $6 billion to date. Zap Energy is one such team, developing an approach to fusion called the sheared-flow-stabilized Z pinch. Zap’s technology avoids the enormous, costly, and complex magnets and lasers of other fusion concepts, but does require several first-of-a-kind systems – including 1MA scale, high-average-power repetitive pulsed power units based on durable solid-state switches. In this keynote Zap’s VP of Systems Engineering Matthew C. Thompson and Chief of Staff AJ Kantor will describe the electrical power handling requirements of fusion systems in general, the fusion industry landscape, what makes Zap’s approach unique, and why power electronics are a critical technology for it to succeed.

AJ Kantor has devoted her career to building bold and challenging technical projects — at Tesla, supporting critical raw material supply chain strategy, internal systems development, a downstream supply chain program, global battery line builds, and the Tesla battery cell program. From there she moved to venture capital, where she focused on hard tech investing and participated on the boards of companies from incubation-stage through IPO. Her experience in large scale, time-bound R&D and technical programs along with her deep exposure to company building at all stages has brought her to Zap Energy, where she is working to bring the same degree of rigor and innovation to the field of fusion power.

Matthew C. Thompson leads a 45-person division at Zap Energy tasked with developing fusion power plant technologies including repetitive pulsed power, liquid metal walls, and durable electrodes. Dr. Thompson received his BS in physics from Stanford Univ., and his MS and PhD in experimental plasma physics are from UCLA. He has worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, TAE Technologies, and BAE Systems. Dr. Thompson is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS), past Chair of the APS Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics, and a past Chair of the APS Committee on Careers and Professional Development. He has mentored numerous students, co-founded a major mentoring program called IMPact, and writes about career issues for physical scientists, including in a published book on the subject.

Fusion energy offers the potential for abundant, on-demand, carbon-free power. But for the past seven decades, fusion has largely been a scientific R&D effort restricted...