Claim: Quantum Computing Magic can Solve the Climate Crisis

Essay by Eric Worrall

According to McKinsey and Company, Quantum Computing modelling can accelerate discovery of breakthrough technologies to solve the climate crisis. But is this an admission of how far we need to advance?

The role of quantum computing and AI in reversing climate change

By Velvet-Belle Templeman
Jun 20 2022 4:44PM

As the world grapples with the existential crisis that is climate change, technologies including quantum computing and AI can play a crucial role in reversing the damage.

According to a recent McKinsey and Company report, as businesses prepare for quantum advantage, they must consider the value in quantum computing as a significant tool for decarbonisation and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

“Meeting the goal of net-zero emissions that countries and some industries have committed to won’t be possible without huge advances in climate technology that aren’t achievable today. Even the most powerful supercomputers available now are not able to solve some of these problems. Quantum computing could be a game-changer in those areas,” the report said.

The authors have attested that quantum computing could be leveraged to develop climate technologies that would contribute to an additional seven gigatons of carbon dioxide abatement by 2035.

Read more:

The McKinsey and Company report is available here.

I like the frankness of the assessment that current renewable technologies are not ready. For example;

Improving the energy density of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries enables applications in electric vehicles and energy storage at an affordable cost. Over the past ten years, however, innovation has stalled—battery energy density improved 50 percent between 2011 and 2016, but only 25 percent between 2016 and 2020, and is expected to improve by just 17 percent between 2020 and 2025.

Recent research3 has shown that quantum computing will be able to simulate the chemistry of batteries in ways that can’t be achieved now. Quantum computing could allow breakthroughs by providing a better understanding of electrolyte complex formation, by helping to find a replacement material for cathode/anode with the same properties and/or by eliminating the battery separator.

Read more: McKinsey and Company Report on Quantum Computing

The promise of quantum computing is in principle it can perform every possible calculation simultaneously, then collapse on the correct solution.

Imagine breaking a spy code. You know the key is 20 characters, but unless you have a mathematical cheat formula, you are pretty much stuck with trying every possible combination of those characters until you start getting valid data from your decoder. Assuming the key only contains capital letters and numbers, that’s (26 + 10)20 = 1.3 x 1031 possible keys – an impossible number of keys to test.

Quantum computing attempts to shortcut this impossibility by harnessing the universe’s real world solver to solve abstract problems, by testing every possible solution simultaneously in a single step.

The effect scientists are hoping to harness is, Quantum processes in some ways behave as if every possible interaction between particles was occurring simultaneously, then, even weirder, the different possible interactions interact with each other to produce the final outcome.

The most famous example of this is the double slit experiment, in which particles are fired through two adjacent vertical slits, to produce an interference pattern on a detector behind the slits.

Double Slit Experiment. Source Wikimedia, public domain.

The quantum weirdness comes in when, even when scientists fire one particle at a time through the double slit, the individual particles behave as if they go through both slits simultaneously. Even stranger, both possible particle paths interact with each other to produce a final pattern on the detector board.

Double slit experiment – even single particles passing through a double slit behave as if they passed through both slits simultaneously.

Where this gets interesting is some paths cancel out. The pattern produced by the double slit experiment has empty areas, where the interaction between possible paths cancelled the possibility of particles arriving at those points on the detector.

Quantum computing scientists hope to harness this weird parallelism, the ability of all possible quantum interactions to contribute to the final calculation and in some cases cancel each other out, so that when every possible pathway is simultaneously tested by their quantum computer, only the correct solution, the solution they are looking for, survives the interaction. They want all the non solution paths to cancel each other out, leaving one bright spot on their detector, the solution they want.

Note this is a simplified explanation, today’s Quantum computers tend to use more exotic quantum processes and interactions than particles flying through double slits.

But for all the advances, to suggest this fascinating game of quantum pinball is in its infancy is an understatement. The quantum computation elements, or Qubits, are unstable and sensitive to external interference. This instability and sensitivity to interference from external influences, such as cosmic rays penetrating the computer hardware, is a serious impediment to the upscaling of Quantum Computer capabilities. I’m deeply skeptical of McKinsey’s claim that any reasonable investment can yield meaningful advances in quantum computing in the next few decades, and double skeptical that any quantum computing advances in the next few decades will noticeably change the dubious trajectory of our alleged green energy revolution.

Update (EW): Added a diagram of the double slit experiment.

via Watts Up With That?

June 21, 2022 at 12:34AM

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