Quantum Computing In Climate and Energy Related Matters

Carolina Arias-Perdomo

Climate change has long been a significant concern within the scientific community, spanning multiple decades. This phenomenon contributes to an array of public health challenges, including the emergence of new viruses, bacteria, and fungi1.

Furthermore, it exacerbates existing inequalities; rising temperatures may lead to food scarcity and limited access to clean water2. In addition to these human impacts, climate change poses a serious threat to wildlife, for example, temperature-sensitive species like amphibians3.

For instance, this year in the southern tropics (example: certain areas of Brazil4) there was an absence of a distinct winter season. Instead, there were fluctuating cold and hot days, with temperatures noticeably higher than in previous years. Simultaneously, the northern hemisphere experienced exceptionally high summer temperatures5, reaching levels that challenge human habitability in some regions.

Consequently, addressing how to safeguard our environment becomes a pressing issue. We all know that. We must explore strategies to mitigate climate change and seek ways to enhance our energy sources while preserving our planet. Considering these challenges, our focus today shifts to the role of quantum computing in climate and energy related matters

The global map shows sea temperature rises of 0.5 to 1 degree Celsius; land temperature rises of 1 to 2 degree Celsius; and Arctic temperature rises of up to 4 degrees Celsius.

Average surface air temperatures 2011-2021 compared to 1956-1976. © Wikimedia commons.

Energy, society, and quantum computing

Dr. Sayonsom Chanda, a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, USA, highlights the multifaceted significance of energy in our lives. Energy influences individual lives, communities, and the broader environment.

The ideal energy solution is one that is dependable, cost-effective, continuously available, and, crucially, does not exacerbate the climate crisis. This perspective underscores the need for energy solutions that align with both our daily requirements and long-term environmental goals.

These aspirations for ideal energy solutions are already a reality in some countries… at least most of the time. In reality, the resilience of our power systems is put to the test during extreme events such as wildfires6, earthquakes, and others.

These incidents reveal that these positive energy attributes are not consistently achievable. In fact, it’s evident some of these desirable characteristics are often lacking. This leads us to an important question: Can quantum-based solutions be employed to address these challenges and achieve our energy goals?

Quantum computing represents a groundbreaking technology capable of tackling complex problems and heavy computations beyond the scope of classical computers. In this article, we delve into potential use-case scenarios where quantum technologies could significantly impact energy and climate sectors. However, it is essential to acknowledge that while certain challenges in these areas may necessitate quantum solutions, there are also many problems within the utility sector that quantum computing don’t need to address. 

Power & Quantum Computing in Optimization

Imagine you’re a traveling salesman who needs to visit a set of cities to sell your products. The goal is to find the most efficient route that minimizes the total distance traveled. This problem becomes more challenging as the number of cities increases because the number of possible routes you need to take grows.

You would love to find the optimal route (shortest and fastest) to sell your products. Problems like this, where we must explore different combinations/functions and evaluate them, are classified as optimization problems. These could also include industrial processes where, for example, we want to construct more things in less time.

We are presently in an era marked by the advent of the first quantum devices, known as Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) computers. These devices are already addressing large-scale optimization challenges, one of which is Grid Partitioning. This involves transmission planning with numerous microgrids.

The challenge lies in arranging these microgrids to enhance the resilience of the transmission grid, a task that classical computers struggle to manage efficiently. Quantum computing offers a promising solution to this complex optimization problem, showcasing its potential in improving the stability and efficiency of energy distribution systems7.

Climate & Quantum Computing: Convert CO2 to Methanol

The burning of fossil fuels stands as the principal contributor to the rising CO2 levels on our planet, and it is a major driving force behind climate change.

From a climate perspective, one of the key strategies to mitigate this issue is to reduce CO2 emissions by converting them into useful chemicals, such as methanol. Methanol serves a versatile role across multiple industries and applications.

It is used as a fuel, in chemical manufacturing, as an alternative fuel source, and as a solvent. This approach not only addresses the reduction of CO2 emissions but also provides a practical use for these emissions in various industrial processes.

Colored flames of methanol solutions of different compounds, in this case, metal salts. © Wikimedia commons.

The process of transforming CO2 into methanol is known as a “catalytic reaction“, which necessitates the use of a catalyst to enable the chemical conversion. Catalysts are vital in this context as they offer an alternative reaction pathway that demands lower activation energy.

This characteristic makes the conversion of CO2 into methanol more feasible. Catalysts are instrumental in breaking the robust bonds present in CO2 molecules, thereby aiding in the formation of new bonds that result in the creation of methanol. This role of catalysts is critical in making the process efficient and viable.

The effort to convert CO2 into methanol, along with ongoing research focused on transforming methane into methanol, represents a highly active area of study. These initiatives are recognized for their potential significant impact in combating climate change.

Successfully achieving these conversions would play a pivotal role in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The progress in these areas is closely watched, as their success could mark a substantial advancement in efforts to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.

In a 2021 study8, scientists from Microsoft Quantum and ETH Zürich conducted an analysis of precise energy measurements using a quantum computer in the field of computational catalysis. This research was enriched by the implementation of advanced quantum algorithms.

The study notably focused on a ruthenium catalyst, chosen for its ability to bind, activate, and convert CO2 into methanol. This example was used to effectively demonstrate the potential of local catalytic chemical reactivity. The findings of this study highlight the significant role that quantum computing can play in the field of catalysis, particularly in facilitating more efficient and environmentally friendly chemical transformations.

More relevant use-cases: development of new materials

Quantum mechanics has unlocked a world of new possibilities, one of which is the creation of novel quantum materials with unique properties.

For example: a significant focus within the industry currently is on designing these new materials. For instance, Electric Vehicles (EVs) rely on batteries powered by Lithium (Li), a resource that is finite and limited on our planet. The development of new quantum materials is crucial for creating a sustainable and renewable process for future generations of EV production. Such materials could revolutionize the way we produce and power electric vehicles.

However, it’s important to note that these solutions, while promising, are not yet feasible with current technology. The pursuit of these advanced materials highlights the intersection of quantum mechanics and sustainable development in addressing some of the pressing challenges of our time.

Developing advanced quantum materials for energy storage represents an exciting area where quantum computing can make a significant contribution. Indeed, it is challenge… but a very stimulating one! The tasks involved, such as accurate modeling and simulation of materials, often require complex computations. These may include solving the Navier-Stokes equations or conducting molecular vibrational calculations, which are well-suited to the strengths of quantum computing.

On another positive note, the potential for creating new materials that can absorb contaminants in water or gases like CO2 is particularly promising. Pioneering companies like TotalEnergies are leading the way, utilizing quantum computing in their research to design materials capable of capturing CO2 more efficiently9.

This innovative approach signifies a major step forward in environmental conservation and showcases the transformative impact of quantum computing in developing solutions for a greener, more sustainable future.

Is it possible for quantum computers to also contribute to the generation of CO2?

The question of whether quantum computers contribute to environmental concerns can be answered with both ‘yes‘ and ‘no‘. The core element that sets quantum computers apart is the qubit, and there are various hardware approaches to realizing qubits in practice. In the case of superconducting quantum computers, they require extremely low temperatures to operate their quantum systems. This necessitates significant energy consumption to maintain such temperatures, which does have environmental implications.

However, the field of quantum computing is one of ongoing advancement and refinement. We’re seeing continual improvements in these technologies. There are alternative hardware approaches for realizing qubits that do not encounter temperature-related issues. Innovations in this domain include the exploration of diamond-based quantum computers, photonic quantum computers, and topological qubits, to name a few. Some of these emerging technologies hold the promise of enabling quantum computing at room temperature, potentially mitigating the environmental impact associated with the cooling requirements of current systems.

Quantum computing for nuclear applications

Nuclear technologies are among the earliest quantum technologies known to us. They exemplify the application of quantum principles in practical ways. Nuclear engineering harnesses nuclear phenomena for a variety of beneficial applications, including energy production, medical advancements, fundamental scientific research, astrophysics, and various forms of instrumentation. This process employs a range of advanced tools and methods, such as supercomputers, particle accelerators, and research reactors.

When considering energy and climate, nuclear energy stands out for its combustion-free nature. During its operation, nuclear power plants do not emit CO2, positioning them as a critical component in strategies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This aspect of nuclear energy highlights its potential as a sustainable and environmentally friendly option in the global energy mix.

The confluence of nuclear and quantum computing remains a relatively untapped area of exploration. As we have discussed in this article, quantum computers hold the potential to significantly enhance engineering design and simulations, which are of broad interest to the power sector and society at large.

Brian McDermott of the Naval Nuclear Laboratory in the USA (NNL) suggests that quantum computers could bring about substantial scaling improvements in areas pivotal to nuclear engineering. This includes the enhancement of engineering simulations, which often involve solving complex partial differential equations. The integration of quantum computing in this field promises to revolutionize the way we approach problem-solving in nuclear engineering, offering more efficient and sophisticated methods for tackling intricate simulations. This development could lead to breakthroughs not only in nuclear technology but also in a range of applications that benefit from advanced simulation capabilities.

Computer simulations play a crucial role in the design and maintenance of nuclear reactors. The experimental construction and testing in this field are often expensive and involve large-scale setups. As a result, there is a heavy reliance on computational simulations for both efficiency and practicality.

These simulations cover a range of detailed analyses, such as fluid dynamics, which is vital for understanding how water flows through a reactor’s fuel assembly. Another example is neutron-by-neutron simulations, which provide insights into the power generation process within the reactor. These simulations are not only essential for the safe and efficient operation of nuclear reactors but also for their ongoing development and improvement. The use of advanced computational tools, including quantum computing, could further enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of these simulations, leading to more sophisticated reactor designs and maintenance techniques.

In the context of fluid dynamics within a Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR), an exemplary scenario involves the dual-loop system of the steam generator. The primary loop transports heated water from the reactor to the steam generator, where it transfers heat to the secondary loop. The secondary loop’s water then vaporizes into steam, subsequently driving the turbine to generate electricity. © Wikimedia commons.

Quantum computing holds the promise of accelerating the resolution of these bottlenecks in nuclear simulations. Given the extensive simulations required to map out the design landscape of nuclear reactors, quantum computing could offer a significant advantage over traditional classical methods. 

However, it’s important to note that this field is still in the early stages of exploration. More research and studies are needed to fully understand and harness the capabilities of quantum computing in nuclear technology. The Naval Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) in the USA is actively engaged in research and development in this direction, investigating how quantum computing can be effectively integrated into nuclear engineering. This ongoing research is crucial in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in nuclear technology through the application of advanced quantum computing techniques.


Embracing innovation requires an open mind and a willingness to explore new solutions. The potential role of quantum computing in shaping the future of the power sector is particularly inspiring. By effectively harnessing the capabilities of quantum computing resources and talent, we can address some of the most pressing challenges in energy production and management.

Our exploration reveals a range of promising applications for quantum computing, from solving complex optimization problems to catalyzing molecule transformations, and developing new quantum materials. Despite the inherent challenges in the current NISQ era, concerted efforts from academia and industry are yielding promising developments. These endeavors highlight the transformative potential of quantum computing in revolutionizing the power sector.


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  2. The World Bank (2022) What You Need to Know About Food Security and Climate Change. Retrieved on 07/12/2023, from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2022/10/17/what-you-need-to-know-about-food-security-and-climate-change?cid=SHR_SitesShareTT_EN_EXT
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  4.  Silveira, E. (2023) Brasil dá “adeus” ao inverno mais quente da sua história moderna e recebe primavera — com chuvas e mais calor. Retrieved on 07/12/2023 from https://umsoplaneta.globo.com/clima/noticia/2023/09/23/brasil-da-adeus-ao-inverno-mais-quente-da-sua-historia-moderna-e-recebe-primavera-com-chuvas-e-mais-calor.ghtml?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=compartilhar
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  7.  D. Wang, K. Zheng, Q. Chen, Z. Li and S. Liu, “Quantum annealing computing for grid partition in large-scale power systems,” 2022 IEEE 5th International Electrical and Energy Conference (CIEEC), Nangjing, China, 2022, pp. 2004-2009, doi: 10.1109/CIEEC54735.2022.9846717. ↩︎
  8.  von Burg, V., Low, G. H., Häner, T., Steiger, D. S., Reiher, M., Roetteler, M., & Troyer, M. (2021). Quantum computing enhanced computational catalysis. Physical Review Research, 3(3), 033055.
  9.  TotalEnergies Press (2020). Total is exploring quantum algorithms to improve CO2 capture. Retrieved on 07/12/2023 from https://totalenergies.com/media/news/news/total-exploring-quantum-algorithms-improve-co2-capture

About the author

Our team consists of PhD and industry experts specializing in quantum computing. With extensive experience in research and practical applications, they are dedicated to helping businesses understand and harness the power of quantum technology for innovation and growth.

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