This collaboration will use quantum computing to make manufacturing more sustainable

On monday, German polymer manufacturer Covestro has announced a 5-year collaboration agreement with San Francisco-based quantum computing 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,” says Torsten Heinemann, Chief Innovation Officer of the Covestro Group.

Chemical manufacturing and materials science are industries where microscopic changes in microscopic systems can have major impacts on large-scale development. Computational chemists work hard to define the microscopic structures in, say, a solar panel, down to how electrons move through it. Subtle changes in this infrastructure can mean percentage gains in efficiency that could produce megawatts more power from a solar-powered plant each year. Likewise, a difference of a few molecules in a catalyst for a chemical reaction could mean that the reaction can take place at a temperature a few degrees lower, which could save manufacturers thousands or even millions of dollars in costs. .

But the challenge with this chemistry is that it has to be done at the quantum level, where the math is so complex that even supercomputers struggle to work out the numbers. This creates a trade-off where being able to design materials or processes in a timely manner means simplifying mathematical models and getting closer to quantum systems. The more simplified the model, the faster computers can process it, but at the expense of manufacturing quality or efficiency.

This is where quantum computing comes in. Because these systems take advantage of quantum processes to create computing power, they have the potential to simulate chemistry without approximation. “Quantum chemistry is extremely natural to do on a quantum computer,” says Rob Parrish, head of chemistry simulations at QC Ware (and alumnus of the 2015 Forbes List of under 30s in science). “And the reason is that you’re trying to create a look-alike of one quantum system in another quantum system. So it maps very well.

Covestro and QC Ware have spent the last year in a partnership to develop proof of concept to model the types of reactions that produce molecules in industrial applications. This work resulted in two articles, one presenting new techniques allowing a simulation using less quantum computing resources, and the other developing a new way of calculating energy gradients. These gradients are used to simulate chemical processes useful by manufacturers.

Rgood now, existing quantum computing hardware is not capable of running some of the large simulations that both companies are interested in, says Parrish. But the collaboration aims to ensure that the software and algorithms are ready for the day that is.

“The initiative we have launched to do this is: in five years, deploy it on the best short-term quantum computer that exists today,” he adds. “And that’s something that will have many individual research strands.”

Heinemann explains that in the short term, Covestro hopes to apply these new techniques to its chemical manufacturing processes that depend on catalytic reactions, which should be easier to simulate with quantum hardware under development and which should be available within a few days. days. years. By improving these types of chemistry, Covestro hopes to have a more efficient process that produces less waste. “That means more yield, better quality 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 examine is the possibility of manufacturing circularity. The company expects there will be more legislation globally aimed at allowing polymers and other materials to be recycled back to their original components, rather than dumped in landfills or burned. . “We also think quantum computing here can be a key enabler,” says Heinemann.

In longer term, the two companies believe that as quantum computing hardware matures, it will be able to drive more sophisticated simulations that will create new possibilities for manufacturing products. For Covestro, an opportunity lies in the area of ​​renewable energy, where quantum computing can help design better solar panels and battery systems. For QC Ware, this means developing quantum software and algorithms that can be sold to other materials manufacturers, and also providing a foundation for other applications such as drug discovery.

“We have this mutually beneficial arrangement where for them, they can get up to speed in quantum information and quantum computing, and they can use the technology in-house to develop products that they sell to market,” says the co-founder and CEO of QC Ware. Matt Johnson.

“I think this partnership and collaboration with QC Ware shows how research and development works in global networks,” adds Heineman. “It means we bring together the right expertise and tailor our collaborations to achieve the common goal.”

Sherry J. Basler