IBM Gathers Energy Giants for Quantum Network

The quantum computing race is on to collect as many Fortune 500 companies to sign onto broad research agreements that send a clear message: quantum may still be on the horizon, but leading enterprises are already taking it seriously.

IBM has been in front of the charge to bring wider recognition and more practical applications to the fore with both its hardware and software accessibility efforts over the last few years. With its Quantum Network, however, it can fuse some of the most recognizable names in the Fortune 100 with top research institutions, highlighting paths forward across a broad array of application areas.

This week, energy giant BP joined IBM’s Quantum Network, a community comprised of top companies in diverse areas such as finance, travel, medicine, and research institutions aimed at developing a new generation of quantum accelerated applications. Participating companies include, among many others, Daimler, Boeing, Goldman Sachs, and Samsung as well as another energy behemoth, ExxonMobil, which announced its Quantum Network participation in early 2019.

BP has clear goals for its quantum ambitions aligned with reducing carbon emissions. According to the company, they see promise on the quantum front in chemical modeling for carbon reduction, specifically by modeling the build-up of different clay soils in hydrocarbon wells. This might sound like a small problem to solve but BP says getting this right is a critical step for more efficient energy production.

The company adds that there are other opportunities in the quantum application spectrum, ncluding analysis via CFD of wind farm production, the autonomous inspections of facilities via robots on site, and discovering entirely new approaches to clean energy production. These are lofty goals for a company that has set forth the goal to be a net zero enterprise by 2050 or sooner, especially in the energy industry.

“BP joins a rapidly growing number of clients working with IBM to explore quantum computing to help accelerate the discovery of solutions to some of today’s biggest challenges,” added Dario Gil, Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research. “The energy industry is ripe with opportunities to see value from the use of quantum computing through the discovery of new materials designed to improve the generation, transfer, and storage of energy.”

ExxonMobil was the first Fortune 500 energy company to join IBM’s Quantum Network with the goal of focusing on optimization of a country’s power grid, scaling up predictive environmental modeling, and taking advantage of one of the most “mature” segments in quantum applications, quantum chemistry to help find new materials.

“The scale and complexity of many challenges we face in our business surpass the limits of today‘s traditional computers,“ said Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development for ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “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.”

Having two of the largest energy companies under its belt sends that all-important message from IBM to the rest of the Fortune 500—that quantum is being seriously explored and that with a partner that can harness the research expertise of several top institutions it is possible to be at the forefront of any quantum computing revolution that might unfold over the next decade.

While IBM is making noise this week with the BP addition, there is momentum among other large energy companies to take up quantum computing. For instance, French energy giant Total is working with Atos using its quantum simulator to achieve its own reduced carbon goals while others like Shell are pursuing university-specific partnerships with an emphasis on quantum chemistry while Chevron’s CIO says he never expected to see such a range of options for large-scale problem solving in his career, quantum computing included.

In addition to IBM’s own quantum computing consultancy within the Quantum Network, national labs including Los Alamos and Oak Ridge in the U.S. are part of IBM’s Quantum Hub of research institutions. The spokes of the hub are global with Keio University, National Taiwan University, and the University of Tokyo participating in Asia and a number of European centers, including Fraunhofer, University of Oxford also on board.

Member organizations of the Quantum Network show the diversity of industries and application areas. In addition to those mentioned above, healthcare giant Anthem is among the consortium, as are recognizable names including Barclay’s, Mitsubishi Chemical, and banking giant Wells Fargo. These companies are joined by the growing host of companies that have spun off the hardware successes of IBM with their application and software focus, including Cambridge Quantum, Aliro Quantum, Quantum Machines, and others.

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