4 Ways Quantum Has The Potential To Be a Powerful Problem Solver, Massive Energy Saver For The Environment

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Quantum computing may be a powerful ally in efforts for a greener, cleaner environment.

There are a lot of reasons to promote quantum computing — from advancing science to addressing the limitations of classical computing — but researchers are increasingly suggesting that the most important mission of quantum computing and other forms of quantum technology will be its use as a tool for scientists and entrepreneurs hoping to halt — and even turn back — climate change.

In a study published on the pre-print server ArXiv, a team of researchers, including leading industry experts and academics, listed four reasons why quantum computing can help scientists solve arguably the most important challenge of our era.

The researchers say that quantum can help with: Simulation of physical systems, combinatorial optimization, quantum sensing and computational energy efficiency. 

1. Simulation of Physical Systems
According to the researchers, understanding solutions to climate change — whether they might be finding materials to promote lightweight metals for transportation or understanding how carbon can be better filtered out of the atmosphere — requires computationally intense calculations. While quantum computing isn’t good for every problem, it offers great potential in simulating physical systems.

“At the microscopic level of electrons and atoms, all physical behavior is governed by quantum mechanics. However, studying the quantum scale with classical computers faces major obstacles, as the time and memory required for exact simulation increases exponentially with the size of the system.”

The researchers write: “At the microscopic level of electrons and atoms, all physical behavior is governed by quantum mechanics. However, studying the quantum scale with classical computers faces major obstacles, as the time and memory required for exact simulation increases exponentially with the size of the system.”

A quantum computer — if it came along in time — could help in the quest to create better sustainable energy materials and devices, for example.

They write: “First, to a degree of accuracy that is impossible today, researchers could in principle simulate the behavior of, for example, new photovoltaics, battery materials and fuels before spending massive time and investment in the laboratory. Though there are currently many useful materials and chemical simulations performed on traditional computers, their imprecise results can often be used only for qualitative conclusions or for eliminating poor candidates. Second, with a quantum computer one would be able to perform virtual screenings of millions of molecules (or more) for given applications, with high confidence in the accuracy of the results (as opposed to the mid or low confidence given by current supercomputer simulations).”

2. Quantum Optimization
While it is still early and further research is needed, using quantum optimization may offer several paths toward creating a cleaner environment, the researchers say. Optimization problems, one of the solutions that quantum is suited for, is a way to find optimal solutions to problems among many feasible solutions.

For the climate, better optimization algorithms may not directly lead to a better environment, but it could improve sustainability efforts that then serve as steps toward a cleaner planet. For example, in the case of quantum computing, scientists are already starting to explore whether quantum offers advantages over classical approaches in solving problems, such as smart charging of electric vehicles.

The researchers write that problems and application areas suitable for quantum optimization efforts should meet two conditions. They should be impactful for helping with climate change and  a good fit for quantum resources and potential quantum advantage. 

The researchers suggest the criteria include:

  • Moderate problem size
  • Non-data intensive 
  • Measurable impact
  • Impact multiplier
  • Second-order effects

Possible projects could include ones in fields such as power and energy, system layout, transportation networks, distribution networks and Climate mitigation and adaptation.

The researchers conclude: “Optimization applications related to climate appear a lucrative, though presently somewhat murky, area for potential quantum advantage in the near future. We encourage further research towards identifying the most promising applications, in particular through enhanced dialogue between the quantum and climate communities, but also from industries such as energy, transport, and operations research. We emphasize that as basic research 5 continues in quantum optimization, the viewpoints here could potentially change significantly in the near future to reflect the developing science and technology. In particular, quantum computing research can sometimes lead to new and improved classical algorithms, which is a further welcome development.”

The team identified five domains where quantum sensing could be beneficial: electricity systems,  transportation,  industry, environmental monitoring and society.

3. Quantum Sensing

Quantum technology can also keep an eye on the environment, perhaps in ways that classical sensors and detectors cannot, according to the researchers. Quantum sensors will be a welcomed ally in the efforts to gather data to inform scientists on climate changes and inform strategies and policies.

The researchers report: “Quantum sensors bring a new paradigm for measuring their environment, enabling efficiencies and correlations that are not possible in the classical world. Applied to climate change, they are anticipated to have transformative impacts across a variety of domains, from electricity to environmental monitoring.”

The team identified five domains where quantum sensing could be beneficial: electricity systems,  transportation,  industry, environmental monitoring and society.

4. The Energy Efficiency of Quantum Systems

Quantum computing has a direct impact on climate change through its computational efficiency, according to the researchers. In other words, once realized, quantum computers could be orders of magnitude more computationally efficient compared to classical computers, or supercomputers in solving certain problems. 

For example, in the case of the computation that Google performed on its quantum computer to achieve quantum supremacy, the quantum device used about 557,000 times less power than if the same calculation was performed on a supercomputer.

The researchers write: “The potential of using quantum computers to solve problems that are at present impossible on supercomputers is becoming widely known, even in the general public. However, even if quantum computers were not able to achieve a speedup in computing time compared to classical computers for a given problem, using them might still provide an advantage. Indeed, quantum computers could possibly provide an increase in efficiency in terms of the physical resources required, such as the total energy needed to complete a given calculation.”

Quantum computers have yet to achieve an advantage over their classical counterparts in mainstream uses. However, as investments and scientific interest pour into the field, that quantum advantage may become a question of when, not if. According to the researchers, the advantage of quantum computing as both a problem solver and an energy saver should be considered as efforts toward quantum are ramping up.

Learn more about quantum’s potential to tackle sustainability and climate change in the documentary, Quantum Technology | Our Sustainable Future.




Matt Swayne
Matt Swayne
Matt Swayne is a contributor at The Quantum Daily. He focuses on breaking news about quantum discoveries and quantum computing. Matt enjoys working on -- and with -- startups and is currently working on a media studies master's degree, specializing in science communication.

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