ExxonMobil has become the first energy company to join IBM to work on using quantum computing in its energy and manufacturing technologies.

The plan is that quantum computing will help the American oil and gas company solve computationally challenging problems such as optimising a country’s power grid.

It could also help in the discovery of new materials for better carbon capture, using better predictive environmental modelling and very accurate quantum chemistry calculations.

By partnering with IBM, ExxonMobil says it intends to develop its collaborative efforts toward new energy technologies, the improvement of energy efficiency and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Quantum computing surpasses today’s computers

“The scale and complexity of many challenges we face in our business surpass the limits of today’s traditional computers,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development for ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.

“Quantum computing can potentially provide us with capabilities to simulate nature and chemistry that we’ve never had before.

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“As we continue our own research and development efforts in the areas of energy and chemical manufacturing, our agreement with IBM will allow us to expand our knowledge base and potentially apply new solutions in computing to further advance those efforts.”

IBM unveils first commercial quantum computer at CES 2019

CERN, which houses the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, also announced it would be working with IBM at CES 2019, to explore how quantum computing can be used to advance scientific understanding of the universe.

It will work with IBM in investigating how to apply quantum machine learning techniques to classify collisions in the Large Hadron Collider.

IBM also unveiled its first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use at CES 2019.

But Winfried Hensinger, professor of quantum technologies at the University of Sussex, told The Verge: “It’s more like a stepping stone than a practical quantum computer.”

IBM Q explores the practical applications for quantum

IBM Q is the name of the initiative working on building quantum computers and developing scalable quantum systems and applications for business and science at IBM.

Strategy and ecosystem vice president at IBM Q Bob Sutor said: “As we continue to explore practical applications for quantum computing, it’s critical we partner with businesses and organizations from a variety of industries and disciplines.

“These organisations will work directly with IBM scientists, engineers and consultants to explore quantum computing for specific industries. They will have cloud-based access to IBM Q systems, as they work to discover real-world problems that may be solved faster or more efficiently with a quantum computer versus a classical computer.”

Computers that exploit the laws of quantum mechanics

IBM has brought quantum computing out of academia and into reality, with several quantum computers that need to be kept refrigerated to temperatures cooler than outer space.

Quantum states are fragile and subject to interference, so they need near-zero temperatures to operate.

The quantum computers work by the laws of quantum mechanics to evaluate 100 quadrillion states simultaneously.

In comparison a traditional computer works in binary, seeing only two states.

As an analogy, a quantum computer sees the possibilities of heads or tails while the tossed coin is still spinning in the air, and not just the outcome of how it lands.

Instead of solving problems in sequence like traditional computer chips, quantum computers solve multiple problems in parallel.

This can increase the speed of some processes, such as machine learning, and make artificial intelligence more intelligent.

But quantum computers are still experimental, and will require considerably more development before they will see significant real-world use.