This partnership will use Quantum Computing to make manufacturing more sustainable

On monday, German-based polymer manufacturer Covestro has announced a 5-year collaboration agreement with San Francisco-based quantum computer software developer QC Ware. Together, the companies will work to develop quantum computing algorithms that can improve Covestro’s manufacturing processes and materials.

“We are fully convinced that quantum computing technology will give computational chemists a decisive boost in the future,” said Torsten Heinemann, Covestro’s head of group innovation.

Chemical manufacturing and materials science are industries where microscopic changes in microscopic systems can have major implications for macro-scale development. Computer chemists are working hard to define microscopic structures in, say, a solar panel, down to the level of how electrons move through them. Subtle changes to that infrastructure could mean percentage efficiency gains that could yield megawatts more power from a solar power plant each year. Likewise, a difference of a few molecules in a catalyst for a chemical reaction can mean that the reaction can take place at a temperature a few degrees lower — saving manufacturers thousands or even millions of dollars in costs.

But the challenge of this chemistry is that it has to be done at the quantum level, where the math is so complex that even supercomputers struggle to crack the numbers. This creates a trade-off where being able to design materials or processes in a timely manner means simplifying mathematical models and approximating quantum systems. The simpler the model, the faster computers can crack it, but this comes at the cost of production quality or efficiency.

That’s where quantum computing comes into play. Because these systems take advantage of quantum processes to create computational power, they have the potential to simulate chemistry without approximation. “Quantum chemistry is an extremely natural thing to do on a quantum computer,” explains Rob Parrish, QC Ware’s head of chemistry simulations (and alumnus of the 2015 Forbes Under 30 Science List). “And the reason is that you’re trying to create a doppelganger of one quantum system in another quantum system. So it has been mapped out very nicely.”

Covestro and QC Ware have collaborated for the past year to develop a proof-of-concept for modeling the types of reactions that produce molecules in industrial applications. This work has led to two papers, one showing new techniques that allow simulation with fewer quantum computing resources, and the other developing a new way to calculate energy gradients. These gradients are used by manufacturers to simulate useful chemical processes.

Rreally now, existing quantum computing hardware isn’t capable of running some of the large simulations the two companies are interested in, Parrish says. But the partnership aims to have the software and algorithms ready for the day it is.

“The initiative we’ve taken to do this is, in five years time, deploy this on the best short-term quantum computer out there,” he adds. “And this is something that will feature many individual streams of research.”

Heinemann explains that in the near term, Covestro hopes to apply these new techniques to its chemical production processes that rely on catalytic reactions, which should be easier to simulate with quantum hardware that is now being developed and expected to be available within a few years. year. By improving this type of chemistry, Covestro hopes to have a more efficient process that produces less waste. “That means more output, higher quality of the chemical reactions in the products we generate and less energy consumption in the factories,” he adds.

A second project that Covestro and QC Ware will look at is the possibility of circularity of production. The company expects more legislation around the world to allow polymers and other materials to be recycled back to their original components, rather than being dumped in landfills or incinerated. “We also think that quantum computing could be an important factor here,” Heinemann says.

lon a long term, both companies believe that as quantum computing hardware matures, it will be able to drive more sophisticated simulations that open up new possibilities for product manufacturing. For Covestro, an opportunity lies in renewable energy, where quantum computing can help design better solar panels and battery systems. For QC Ware, that means developing quantum software and algorithms that can be sold to other material manufacturers, as well as providing a foundation for other applications, such as drug discovery.

“We have a mutually beneficial arrangement where they can learn about quantum information and quantum computing, and use the technology internally to develop products that they sell in the market,” said QC Ware co-founder and CEO. Matt Johnson.

“I think this collaboration and collaboration with QC Ware shows how research and development works in global networks,” added Heineman. “That means bringing together the right expertise and aligning our collaborations with the common goal.”

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