Exxon partners with IBM to advance quantum computing

Article by Amanda Jasi

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EXXONMOBIL has become the first energy company to join the IBM Q Network, a worldwide community that aims to advance quantum computing and explore science and business applications. Advancement could lead to the development of next-generation energy and manufacturing technologies.

Quantum computing uses quantum mechanics phenomena to reimagine computing. The additional power promises breakthroughs in many disciplines, including materials and drug discovery, optimisation of complex systems and artificial intelligence, but to realise them quantum computers have to become more widely accessible and useable.

Advances in quantum computing could allow Exxon to address challenging computational problems in a range of applications, including the potential to optimise a country’s power grid. Exxon could also potentially perform more predictive environmental modelling and highly accurate quantum chemistry calculations, which could enable the discovery of new materials for more efficient carbon capture.

The new agreement with Exxon expands IBM’s collaborative efforts with other companies and academic institutions that are focussed on developing new energy technologies, improving energy efficiency, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Vijay Swarup, Vice President of Research and Development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering said: “Quantum computing can potentially provide us with capabilities to simulate nature and chemistry that we’ve never had before. As we continue our own research and development efforts in the areas of energy and chemical manufacturing, our agreement with IBM will allow us to expand our knowledge base and potentially apply new solutions in computing to further advance those efforts.”

He added: “The many partnerships we lead or participate in around the world provide us with opportunities to exchange ideas and collaborate, applying our own unique experiences, knowledge and strengths toward a potentially successful breakthrough in lower-emission energy production or a more efficient manufacturing process.”

The IBM Q Network is an industry-first initiative and the community consists of Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions and national research labs. Participants include Japanese chemicals company JSR, chemicals trading firm Nagase, and Hitachi Metals.  

The network focusses on accelerating research and developing commercial applications. Participants can benefit by receiving support, training, and enablement from industry-leading technical experts.

Quantum computing

Classical computing simply stores information as ones and zeros, but quantum computing can exploit quantum phenomena – superposition, entanglement, and interference – which makes it more powerful and enables it to solve more complex problems. This is expected to allow quantum computing to simulate natural phenomena such as chemical reactions.

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IBM model of a quantum computer at CeBIT, 2018

IBM’s processors store information as superconducting qubits – the quantum version of bits –  which can be manipulated and measured using microwave impulses. In order to function correctly, the processors have to be maintained at close to zero kelvin to prevent information from being lost to the environment.

Currently, several IBM quantum computers can be accessed via the cloud, including 5- and 14-qubit devices which can be accessed for free through Qiskit and IBM Q Experience. A 20-qubit device is available for client use.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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