Inside Quantum Technology’s “Inside Scoop:” Quantum and Climate Change Science
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today, and scientists around the world are working tirelessly to understand its causes and find solutions. One area of research that is a particularly promising solution is quantum computing. This cutting-edge technology has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of climate change and help us develop more effective strategies for mitigating its effects. “As some quantum computing technologies mature, they could accelerate, enhance and introduce innovative solutions that contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction as well as novel energy storage solutions and new recycling technologies – just to name a few,” explained Maëva Ghonda, the Chair of the Quantum AI Institute and the Sustainability Expert and Chair of the Quantum Computing Climate Change Advisory Board for IEEE Quantum, a leading international quantum computing network.
Making Better Models
Because climate change science involves a whole host of variables, from rising temperatures to ocean acidity, modeling the predicted fluctuations over time can be challenging. These models are incredibly complex, and even the most powerful supercomputers struggle to run them in a timely manner. However, quantum computers have the potential to perform these simulations much more quickly and accurately than traditional computers. By using fluid-dynamics-based simulations, quantum computers can provide a much more detailed and accurate picture of how the Earth’s climate is changing, and how it is likely to change in the future. As quantum computing is also predicted to boost optimization for models and simulations, this optimization could also be used to enhance various climate change science models, allowing researchers to learn more about possible outcomes.
Powering Up Energy Grids
Another area where quantum computing could have a significant impact on climate change research is in the development of more efficient and sustainable energy systems. One of the biggest challenges facing renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power is their intermittent nature–they produce energy when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, but not necessarily when we need it. Quantum computing algorithms can help to determine locations that are better for harvesting these renewable energy sources, increasing output. As Markus Pflitsch, the CEO of Terra Quantum, wrote in a recent Forbes article: “Quantum computing can enable more accurate weather simulations based on hundreds of years of historic weather data to help predict the energy production of a particular time frame, eliminating or reducing grid instability. Through better grid balancing and supply predictions, quantum tech could accelerate the use of renewable energy sources.”
Quantum computing can also help to create more energy-efficient electronic devices. For example, quantum computing could be used to design better batteries that can store energy more effectively or to develop more efficient solar panels that can produce more energy from the same amount of sunlight. As quantum computing is already showing incredible success in chemical analysis and material science, it could be game-changing in making more efficient materials. “So many low-carbon technologies involve complex systems, particularly around chemistry and materials science, which nobody fully understands,” explained Jeremy O’Brien, CEO and co-founder of PsiQuantum in a recent article for McKinsey Digital. “Everyone is scrambling to find a new catalyst or electrolyte that will give us cheaper carbon capture or better electric batteries. Right now, we have to test thousands of molecular combinations, which means lengthy and hugely expensive trial-and-error lab experiments, with often disappointing, marginal improvements.” Instead, quantum computing could streamline this process, creating greener devices that could power our cars, homes, and cities.
Lowering Gas Emissions
Besides modeling and material sciences, quantum computing could also be used to help mitigate the effects of climate change by developing more efficient and sustainable transportation systems. By using quantum algorithms to optimize traffic flow and reduce congestion, for example, it may be possible to reduce emissions from cars and trucks, which are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. “Vehicles sitting in traffic spend copious amounts of fuel while producing no positive result,” Pflitsch added in his article. “Quantum tech may be able to more efficiently plan routes by using historical data and real-time inputs to keep vehicles rolling around traffic jams and on the most fuel-efficient routes.” Because the population of the world is significantly increasing, we will need better energy infrastructures for our cities and countries. These infrastructures will be difficult to develop and scale, which is where quantum computing could come in handy. Using various algorithms, quantum computing could show how to build the most effective and energy-efficient grids for our growing cities.
What Quantum Computing Companies are Currently Doing with Climate Change Science
There are many different quantum computing companies and organizations looking at applying quantum computing to climate change science. Businesses like IBM and Riverlane already have research programs in place looking to use quantum computing to improve battery life and efficiency. Others, like the IEEE Quantum, hold climate change summits. In fact, March of 2023 marks the second year of IEEE Quantum’s Quantum Computing Climate Change Summit. Ghonda led the creation of this event and continues to see its promise every year. “Significant change will only be possible with united, collaborative effort enabled by multinational public-private partnerships,” she added. Events like these can help keep climate change science as a prevalent use case for various quantum computing companies, organizations, and even national governments to focus on.
For Ghonda, other more definitive steps need to be taken if quantum computing really could benefit climate change. “Bold actions are needed if quantum computing is to help create more environmentally friendly policies,” she stated. “I propose the creation of a new discipline: quantum climate science. My definition of this new discipline that I have proposed is as follows: quantum climate science is an emerging field that is concerned with the computation of quantum effects on climate systems. Legislation and regulatory incentives that promote quantum climate science could help accelerate quantum computing research and development for climate mitigation use cases.”
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a staff writer at Inside Quantum Technology and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). Her writing beats include deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology.