Quantum Computing R&D collaboration Shell- Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam-Leiden University

Quantum computing is a technology, where the often unintuitive characteristics of quantum mechanics merge with information theory to solve certain specialized computational problems very differently, and possibly much faster, than on computers available today. Computational Chemistry is one of those problems. It is of great interest to Shell’s fuel retail, chemicals, catalysis and New Energies businesses. Quantum computers of the scale needed for solving complex challenges do not yet exist. That is why Shell has entered a 5-year collaboration with VU Amsterdam and Leiden University to progress this field, and to discover how to use them across Shell’s businesses.

05/14/2020 | 1:56 PM

Understanding what electrons really do
Quantum computers are still extremely difficult to build, operate and program. Thousands of scientists and engineers across the world, including many in the Netherlands (a leading nation in quantum computing technology), work to build them. Increased focus is now also being placed on the development of the algorithms and programs that can run on them. This topic is the focus of the Shell collaboration with Leiden and VU. ‘As a theoretical chemist I am eager to adopt quantum computing’, says Lucas Visscher, VU professor Theoretical Chemistry, ‘as this provides a unique opportunity to understand what electrons really do in the key reactions of nature.’

Computers perform calculations using ‘classical’ bits: electronically-coded ones and zeroes. A quantum computer is a different beast. Founded on the laws of quantum mechanics, its basic unit of information can be either 1 or 0, or in a superposition of both at the same time. This unusual feature allows for multiple calculations to be performed in parallel, . Mathematicians and physicists in the 1980s and 1990s showed that this principle can be used to dramatically reduce the computational effort for certain types of calculations, resulting in what is called a “quantum speedup” over regular computers.

Molecules speak quantum
Quantum computing has the potential to simulate chemical interactions at a speed and scale fundamentally exceeding what is possible today. Molecules are quantum mechanical systems and solving the underlying equations is impossible on today’s supercomputers for even small molecules without crude approximations. Quantum computing will be a critical enabler to simulate complex chemical systems at industrial scale, such as catalysis in petrochemical operations, or photocatalysis for capturing and storing solar energy.