AI and Quantum Computing to Fight Against Climate Change
Can two promising disruptive technologies help the world in its crusade against Climate Change?
The world continues to be fascinated by the AI storm. And why not? AI has helped bring massive digital transformation across various industry verticals, including traditionally rigid banking and finance sectors. Now, with the scientists’ prediction of quantum computing supremacy, we are yet to discover what AI still has to offer when fuelled by the next age of computers. While it is evident, quantum computing can help perform complex calculations, hyper-speed internet connectivity; experts claim it can be a pivotal ticket to solving socio-global issues like climate change!
Yes, you heard it right. Though currently, every developing and the developed nation is vying to dominate the AI market position; achieving an apex position or even building a quantum supercomputer is a far-fetched dream. Yet climate change is a problem that affects us all. Further, though the political take on addressing this grave concern has not helped much, focusing on technological solutions is the key at the moment. And since quantum computers employ distributed probability amplitudes rather than work through binary-based outcomes, they have the potential to solve problems that are far beyond the scope of existing machines. This includes mitigating AI’s carbon footprint, discovering molecules that can trap poisonous emissions, and more. Even the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted by 2025, quantum computing “will have outgrown its infancy,” and we’ll see a first generation of commercially available quantum-inspired devices to “tackle meaningful, real-world problems.”
According to the World Economic Forum, this new form of computing could be used to develop room-temperature superconductors to reduce the 10% of energy production lost in transmission, more energy-efficient batteries, and methods of removing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere.
Recently, Jeffrey Welser of IBM Research suggested some vital suggestions on how quantum computing and AI can battle the climate crisis. According to him, AI can help find materials to control & capture carbon emissions more efficiently, and advances in quantum computing could help us simulate such complex molecules. He also suggests that one can capture the carbon emissions and reuse it for new innovative purposes. This is revolutionary since the earlier discoveries of new materials were based on experimentation with various compounds and chemicals. Besides, traditional computers cannot process complex molecules simulations as fast and efficiently as quantum computers can. Unlike a classical computer that needs to sift through all likely outcomes one by one, a quantum machine will go through many possibilities simultaneously, dealing with a much more extensive range of possible computational states. This is because, the latter works on qubits (quantum bits) instead of binary.
Meanwhile, Jean-François Bobier, a Boston Consulting Group partner, shared in the online conference the potentials of quantum computers in creating molecules that could replace chemical catalysts needed for fertilizer production. He elaborates that the current chemical catalysts (made using the Haber-Bosch process) consume 3 to 5% of global natural gas and cost up to US$300 billion a year. This is said to be responsible for 2% of annual worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to that, fertilizers are toxic for the environment in the long run and very energy-intensive.
IBM is using AI and quantum power to study how bacteria help in nitrogen fixation, to discover effective methods of producing fertilizers. Insights on how bacteria produce ammonia naturally using significantly less energy and replicating the FeMoco molecule (the primary cofactor of natural nitrogenase) would be a significant leap forward. Scientists also believe understanding this technology can unlock the development of high-temperature superconductors, production of synthetic hydrocarbons, enable the searching of new materials for solar cells.
Next, using quantum computers, Airbus engineers are looking for better designs that optimize both drag and lift and therefore reduce emissions. Through quantum computing, it plans to discover ways to optimize aircraft climb trajectory, which is especially important in short-haul flights, and improve wing box design to adjust weight while maintaining structural integrity. These underlying principles also hold true in maritime transport, which contributes around 2% of global emissions.