5th Nov 2021
Governments and municipalities are investing heavily in encouraging greener lifestyle changes and developing climate-friendly fuel alternatives to help them meet their carbon zero commitments, but there are more weapons available than simply flying less and using more solar power.
Tech advances, including quantum computing, are unveiling a host of applications and processes, which promise to play a vital role in our sustainable future, but the next few years are key.
As scientist and IBM Fellow Tamar Eilam said, “The responsible, ethical use of technology, such as quantum tech, will serve as an important tool for scientists, policymakers and citizens working for a cleaner, more sustainable world. Technology plays a dual role in combating climate change. We simply have no chance to win without technology.”1
Why quantum computing stocks should be part of the zero emissions strategy
Quantum computing may conjure up thoughts of Star Trek, but essentially, we’re talking about powerful computing systems that can simulate extremely complicated scenarios within minutes or seconds, as well as enabling advanced artificial intelligence (AI) applications. With faster, more powerful computing capabilities, it becomes possible to develop new materials and innovative solutions that improve sustainability across sectors.
Experts from computing, AI, and environmental studies agree that it’s crucial to harness the potential of quantum to help save the world. According to leading analysts at the Boston Consulting Group, quantum computing could reduce emissions from transportation by up to 17.6%, those from construction by more than 25%, and from industry by close to one-third.2
“We need to intensify our efforts in the fight against climate change. Technology offers much-needed support,” they write, adding “Quantum computing could help bring more low-carbon technologies into economic reach. It is in the best interest of governments and companies to fast-track progress in the race for our future.”3
Early August saw the release of a documentary in which a wide consortium of tech experts make the case for investing in quantum computing to combat climate change. Richard Murray, CEO of Orca Computing and one of the participants, said “Quantum computing offers the chance for numerous breakthroughs that will allow us to continue our day-to-day lives in harmony with the planet and its resources. It creates ideas that can bring about new materials and products, while reducing the exorbitant hidden energy-cost of modern-day high-performance computing.”4
Quantum speed modeling can transform decision making
Many of the breakthroughs referred to by Murray lie in quantum’s ability to calculate advanced processes in very short time frames. Speeding them up is already revealing many ways to improve sustainability, and there is much more that is still to be uncovered.
For example, airplane manufacturers are striving to design a more aerodynamic plane that requires less fuel. Using classical computing, they have to build prototypes to verify the efficacy of each possibility. But quantum computers can run complex simulations that allow manufacturers to quickly test, compare, and improve on product R&D.5
Additionally, quantum processes and AI algorithms improve visibility into complex supply chains, offering the opportunity to refine routing, transportation, and energy use choices. To give one example, many countries in northern Europe are replacing coal with liquid natural gas (LNG), which produces around 60% less greenhouse gases. But most governments need to import LNG, and plotting the most efficient routes and delivery frequency for these shipments is a “mind-bendingly complex optimization problem,” in the words of Dr. Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil. It’s a step too far for classical computing, so ExxonMobil and IBM are working together to use quantum computing to resolve the issue. 6
Quantum computing is also being applied to make today’s complex power grids more sustainable and reliable, in the face of frequent extreme weather events and sudden surges in demand. Classical computing is struggling to keep up, but quantum can run millions of scenarios in milliseconds to produce more accurate predictions and support better decision making. Power company ComEd already ran a proof of concept for this with support from academic teams.7
Quantum can revolutionize materials design
Leaders are using quantum computing to develop more efficient and more sustainable materials, as well as innovative substances needed to reduce emissions and cut pollution.8 “We’ve designed molecules that could lead to more efficient polymer membranes to filter off carbon dioxide better than currently used membranes in carbon capture technologies,” says Mathias Steiner, the lead scientist on an IBM research project to develop new materials that can capture the carbon produced by high polluting industries.9
With quantum and AI modeling, it’s also possible to produce construction and transportation materials that require less carbon and could, in time, replace high polluting materials like steel, aluminum, and cement.
Other teams are working on batteries which could store energy more efficiently and for longer periods of time than today’s lithium-ion batteries (LIBs). Only 3-4% of electricity generated by utilities globally is currently stored, but it’s estimated that to meet the target of keeping global warming below 2℃ by 2050, we need to more than triple our energy storage capabilities10.
Additionally, work is underway on using quantum computing to make fertilizer production more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Nitrogen fixation, which lies at the heart of fertilizer production, currently uses 1-2% of global energy. But bacteria also carry out nitrogen fixation. By using quantum modeling, scientists hope to simulate bacterial nitrogen fixation to understand what lies behind it, and use the knowledge to produce nitrogen fertilizer at a lower environmental cost.11
Investment in quantum computing could be key
Many people championing tech’s role in sustainability warn about the importance of choosing to invest in quantum computing. The technology is still young, and needs to be nurtured to drive a sustainable planet.
“Innovation is happening globally, in markets like the US, UK, China, and Japan at an incredible pace, and now fuelled with venture funding, efforts are accelerating, and we have even seen our first SPAC in quantum computing. But, to ensure we get closer to a breakthrough, we must ensure the funding that’s coming in is channeled in the right way,” said Stuart Woods, managing director at Oxford Instruments NanoScience.12
As a result, choosing to invest in quantum computing stocks could be a more significant decision than one might expect. An ETF like Defiance’s QTUM, which seeks to track leading stocks involved in quantum computing and AI technologies, is one way to potentially mitigate your exposure to risk by spreading your investment.
1 “Leading Experts Urge Applying Power of Quantum to Sustainability in New Documentary” August 2, 2021 https://www.hpcwire.com/off-the-wire/leading-experts-urge-applying-power-of-quantum-to-sustainability-in-new-documentary/
2 “A Quantum Advantage in Fighting Climate Change” January 22, 2020 https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/quantum-advantage-fighting-climate-change
3 “A Quantum Advantage in Fighting Climate Change” January 22, 2020 https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/quantum-advantage-fighting-climate-change
4 “Leading Experts Urge Applying Power of Quantum to Sustainability in New Documentary” August 2, 2021 https://www.hpcwire.com/off-the-wire/leading-experts-urge-applying-power-of-quantum-to-sustainability-in-new-documentary/
5 “A Quantum Advantage in Fighting Climate Change” January 22, 2020 https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/quantum-advantage-fighting-climate-change
6 “IBM quantum computing: From healthcare to automotive to energy, real use cases are in play” August 31, 2021 https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/other/ibm-quantum-computing-from-healthcare-to-automotive-to-energy-real-use-cases-are-in-play/ar-AANXkOQ
7 “The KLab Teams with Commonwealth Edison Company to Investigate Quantum Computing & Power Systems” October 8, 2019 https://ritchieschool.du.edu/news/klab-teams-commonwealth-edison-company-investigate-quantum-computing-power-systems-0
“How quantum computing is poised to support sustainable power grids” September 30, 2020 https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-quantum-computing-poised-support-sustainable-power-grids
8 “Quantum Computing and AI to Enable Our Sustainable Future” September 24, 2020 https://ibm-research.medium.com/quantum-computing-and-ai-to-enable-our-sustainable-future-58aa494cd4bc
9 “How AI and Quantum Could Help Fight Climate Change” April 22, 2021 https://ibm-research.medium.com/earth-day-how-ai-and-quantum-could-help-fight-climate-change-4156fe6ee16d
10 “BEYOND THE TIPPING POINT: FUTURE ENERGY STORAGE” https://www.swecourbaninsight.com/urban-energy/beyond-the-tipping-point-future-energy-storage/
11 “Let’s Make Quantum Computing about Sustainability” https://www.zapatacomputing.com/lets-make-quantum-computing-about-sustainability/
12 “Will quantum computing help us tackle climate change?” August 19, 2021 https://cybernews.com/editorial/changing-consumer-behavior-is-not-enough-to-tackle-global-warming-will-quantum-computing-save-us/