27 Oct 2021

Taking a Quantum Leap to Tackle Climate Change

Riverlane explore how new technology based on quantum theory can provide solutions to counter global warming as part of techUK's Quantum commercialisation week #QuantumUK

The headlines make for depressing reading, as record temperatures are accompanied by predictions of worse to come.  But a new computing technology based on quantum theory will deliver the horsepower that could provide solutions to counter global warming and give us hope.  

The scientific solutions to global warming appear simple; we need to store renewable energy cheaply, electrolyse water efficiently and capture CO2 effectively. However, existing computing systems are nowhere near able to replicate the complexity of atomic-level interactions in nature.  We need faster computers.    

Anyone who claims to understand quantum theory is either lying or crazy," 

Richard Feynman


Quantum computing uses an entirely different approach to conventional computers; the quantum concepts of superposition and entanglement enable multi-dimensional computing. A complex problem that would be solved on a binary computer one step at a time can be solved in a single pass by computers that are infinitely more powerful than any we know today.  In 2019 Google claimed that its quantum computer completed a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken IBM’s most powerful computer 10,000 years to complete

Nature isn't classical, dammit, and if you want to make a simulation of nature, you'd better make it quantum mechanical

Richard Feynman


In a famous lecture in 1981 the legendary physicist Richard Feynman proposed the concept of quantum computing, stating that the only way to simulate quantum physics of nature would be through a quantum computing approach.   

The simulation of nature is now close to possible with the advancement of quantum hardware, while quantum software companies like Riverlane are homing in on operational control systems. 

Battery Materials 

A major challenge is that our electricity networks have no facilities for storing energy from renewable but inconsistent sources of wind and solar.  We need to develop ultra low-cost batteries to store these alternative energies. Current battery R&D relies on cycles of experimentation and computational simulation, with each cycle lasting several weeks.  Quantum computing offers the ability to simulate every element of the battery chemistry in a virtual experiment at the atomic level.   

Riverlane is currently engaged in research into Lithium-Air batteries, aiming to find a quantum version of Moore’s law, where battery performance in the form of energy density will double every year.   

Hydrogen Production 

One of the great conundrums in the battle against climate change is our failure to produce hydrogen efficiently from from the electrolysis of water. The issue is the nature of water molecules, which are highly complex due to their intermolecular bonding.   Quantum computers are being used in the search for efficient hydrogen production by simulating the electrolysis process. In 2020 Shell worked with physicists from Leiden University to do exactly this, and IonQ, a quantum computing technology company, successfully calculated the simulation of a water molecule on one of its quantum devices in 2019. 

Carbon Capture 

Carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) will make up 50% of heavy industry’s emissions reductions by 2050 according to the International Energy Authority. 

Today, no cheap and readily available catalysts for CO2 reduction exist, as most techniques involve precious metals or expensive processes.  Quantum computers could pave the way to discovering a new catalyst for carbon capture, heralding a new era of scrubbing CO2 directly out of the air, and into products like metals, plastics, and concrete. 

Making Quantum Computing Real 

At Riverlane we have made huge strides in building operating systems that will run across quantum computers and enable models and simulations to give us a deep understanding of nature and how to combat the existential threat of climate change.   

Quantum Commercialisation Week

Click here to read more insights published during techUK's Quantum Commercialisation Week

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Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Head of Technology and Innovation, techUK

Laura is techUK’s Head of Programme for Technology and Innovation.

She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies, including Quantum Computing, High-Performance Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies, across the UK. As part of this, she works alongside techUK members and UK Government to champion long-term and sustainable innovation policy that will ensure the UK is a pioneer in science and technology

Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.

Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.

[email protected]

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