Climate change presents an existential threat to human societies and the Earth’s ecosystems more generally. Mitigation strategies naturally require solving a wide range of challenging problems in science, engineering, and economics. In this context, rapidly developing quantum technologies in computing, sensing, and communication could become useful tools to diagnose and help mitigate the effects of climate change.
However, the intersection between climate and quantum sciences remains largely unexplored. This preliminary report aims to identify potential high-impact use cases of quantum technologies for climate change with a focus on four main areas: simulating physical systems, combinatorial optimization, sensing, and energy efficiency.
The research was conducted by practitioners from US and Canadian academic institutions, as well as from Intel and quantum computing software provider Zapata. In the report, researchers argue that the advent of large and accurate quantum computers could provide efficient methods to simulate a host of challenging physical systems that are crucial to tackle climate change-related problems in energy, industrial processes, atmospheric science, and other sectors.
Similarly, quantum approaches to optimization could provide benefits in areas including renewable energy, systems layout, transportation, distribution, and direct climate modeling and mitigation, though their precise advantages over classical computers requires further investigation. More generally, it could be useful to use quantum computers not only for their speed-up in certain use-cases, but for their improved energy efficiency.
Quantum sensors could be relevant for climate mitigation, as they can provide improved sensitivity, selectivity and efficiency gains across a wide variety of application domains. In each case, it is important to continue to identify and analyze specific applications having the greatest possible impact, as well as investigate technological innovations such as improved algorithms and hardware towards enabling their successful implementation as soon as possible.
Promising areas not discussed in this preliminary assessment include quantum machine learning and quantum approaches for solving differential equations, among others. Researchers noted that they are “optimistic that increased dialogue between the quantum and climate science communities will help to further identify useful quantum approaches for climate, as well as critical bottlenecks where quantum technologies could be the most effective.”
“The scope and alarming pace of climate change only serves to underscore the importance and urgency of drawing the promise of advanced technologies closer to climate impact today. Indeed, the ongoing development of quantum technologies is contemporaneous with the adverse effects of a changing climate; we are hopeful the former wins the race,” they wrote.