Can Quantum Computing Help Solve Climate Change?

KEY TAKEAWAYS

An expert panel looks at the ways the next chapter of Quantum Computing could help us fight climate change and use energy more efficiently across the planet.

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges faced by humanity today, and the time to solve it is quickly running out. 

Of course, fighting climate change and creating a greener planet won’t be an easy task that can be achieved overnight. However, thanks to advancements in quantum computing, it seems that not all hope is lost. 

Capable of solving complex problems, quantum computers offer many practical use cases for tackling climate change. These include the development of renewable energy, predicting weather changes, and reducing emissions in the car and shipping industries. 

This article explores these use cases and provides tips on developing an effective quantum computing strategy that can help companies improve their sustainability targets. 

Quantum Computing Will Unlock Tools to Help Fight Climate Change

Classical computers aren’t powerful enough when it comes to solving a multi-faced and complex problem like climate change. 

But, experts believe that quantum computers, equipped with vast amounts of processing power and designed for handling complicated problems, are more suitable for the task. 

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David Pugh, director for sustainable industry at Digital Catapult, explains that quantum computers represent a “significant step up in terms of processing power and machine learning techniques” compared to classical computers.

This makes quantum computers capable of “more accurate and realistic prototyping and testing,” allowing them to “handle much larger datasets” and “solve more complicated challenges that are not possible with classic computers.”

“When applied to climate change, quantum computing is thus able to solve complex climate-related challenges at a far more efficient rate than would otherwise be possible with other areas of technology due to its compute power and improved accuracy,” continues Pugh.

A significant advantage of quantum computers is their “ability to simulate quantum systems”, according to Nikhil Malhotra, CIO of Tech Mahindra. They’re therefore capable of facilitating “a deeper understanding of molecular interactions” and are playing “a pivotal role in advancing green technologies,” he explains. 

“By modelling intricate chemical processes and material behaviors, quantum computers can revolutionize the optimization of renewable energy sources and energy distribution systems,” he says. “Their proficiency in solving complex problems positions them to devise optimal solutions for intricate logistical challenges associated with climate mitigation efforts.”

Exciting Green Use Cases

While quantum computing is an evolving technical field, it already boasts some exciting use cases for tackling climate change.

Through optimization, Pugh says companies can use quantum computing to become more sustainable and meet their net-zero targets. 

“This might include optimizing an energy network for flexibility, optimizing a supply chain to reduce travel, or optimizing existing climate models to better reflect real-time changes and to predict accurate climate mitigations.”

READ MORE: The World’s Greatest Supercomputers

Malhotra believes that quantum computers will impact environment conversation in several ways due to their ability to optimize “resource-intensive processes.”

These include “honing algorithms for renewable energy production” and “elevating the effectiveness of carbon capture technologies.”

He adds:

“Quantum algorithms have the power to completely transform optimisation challenges, streamlining supply chains, and resource allocation, ultimately reducing the ecological footprint across various industries.”

Scientists can also use quantum computers to discover new materials “with properties for energy storage and conversion,” says Malhotra. He continues: “This innovation is pivotal in developing sustainable technologies that underpin the transition toward a low-carbon economy.”

Nils Anton Berglund, head of strategic alliances at Kvantify, expects quantum computers to improve sustainability across various sectors. He says the chemicals industry can leverage quantum computers for optimizing “enzymes used in carbon capture that are sold to big polluters to reduce their CO2 emissions.”

“More in this space includes the development of improved enzymes for laundry detergent to reduce the release of microplastics from clothes, reduce the water requirements, and lower required washing temperatures without losing efficiency,” he says.

READ MORE: How to Build a Green Data Center

Berglund says quantum computers could also enable the automotive industry to develop “proven catalysts to reduce car emissions.” And shipping companies could reduce their carbon emissions by “running highly complex route optimization problems,” he adds. 

Advances in quantum computing promise to transform areas like weather forecasting and climate modeling. Kelly Indah, a tech expert and security analyst at Increditools, explains:

“By handling huge amounts of info fast, it can improve forecasts and models. Knowing weather patterns better and extreme events more right helps with climate change plans.”

Christoph Cemper,  founder and CEO of AIPRM, says quantum computing can help people and organizations “use energy more wisely” and solve “hard energy problems.” He uses the example of monitoring and planning traffic in smart cities.

He says: “So, you have to look at a lot of data from sensors, stoplights, and cars right now. In this way, quantum computing can help reduce traffic and travel times, which also means less pollution from cars.”

Quantum Computing and Climate: Practical Steps

Quantum computers offer many different sustainability use cases, but what practical steps must be taken to leverage quantum computing to fight climate change?

Malhotra says this requires “a strategic and methodical approach.” Organizations must first invest in research and development initiatives, according to Malhotra. 

They should prioritize the “adaptation of existing algorithms and the creation of new quantum algorithms tailored to environmental modeling, simulation, and optimization.” He adds: “Essential to this effort is collaboration with research institutions and quantum computing experts, forging partnerships that are fundamental to success.”

Secondly, Malhotra says organizations must establish “a robust quantum computing infrastructure” that includes “both hardware and software components.” He explains that this stage will require the adoption or development of quantum processors. Other steps include “ensuring their scalability” and “creating a conducive programming environment.”

Finally, Malhotra recommends that organizations pursue a “phased implementation strategy,” starting with a pilot project to validate “quantum computing’s efficacy in addressing climate-related problems.” 

Organizations must follow up with “regular assessments and flexible adjustments” to “ensure alignment with the evolving technological and environmental landscapes.” He adds: “By following these steps, organizations can leverage quantum computing as an effective tool in the global effort to mitigate climate change.”

Utilizing quantum computing to improve sustainability depends on “well formatted, ordered and clean data,” according to Pugh. He explains: “At Digital Catapult, we continue to explore the impact of poor data on commercial performance, and one of the reasons that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) aren’t yet delivering on everything that was thought possible for the industry is because the data quality in many sectors remains poor.”

Berglund says government support is vital to fostering innovation across the quantum computing industry. He tells Techopedia:

“We are seeing evidence of this from Denmark’s recent announcement of the second part of their Quantum agenda, the UK announcement yesterday of their five critical missions in quantum as well as previously announced funding in the US, France and Germany.”

According to Berglund, increasing public awareness and understanding of quantum computing technology is also crucial in unlocking its vast benefits for sustainability. 

“We need more people going through university today to understand the technology and how it will be leveraged to ensure a strong supply chain of staff for the industry,” says Berglund. 

“At a higher level, we need education in board rooms and for executives who work in industries that could benefit from working with the quantum industry but don’t understand the impact the technology will have.”

The Bottom Line

Fighting climate change is essential in ensuring a healthy planet for future generations and species. And while this won’t be easy, it’s certainly encouraging that technologies like quantum computing offer many answers and solutions. 

We’ll undoubtedly see many new quantum computing use cases emerge in the foreseeable future.

Organizations must keep experimenting with this technology through research and development for this to happen. Governments can also aid industry progress by making funding available for quantum computing R&D. 

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Nicholas Fearn

Nicholas is a freelance technology and business journalist from South Wales, UK. With a journalism career spanning a decade, he has written for major outlets like Forbes, the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and Huffpost, as well as tech publications like Gizmodo, TechRadar, Computer Weekly, Computing, IT Pro, and many more. When he's not writing about the latest tech trends, Nicholas is probably listening to Mariah Carey on repeat.