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Quantum Revolution 'Living up to Hype,' Quantum Summit London

Nestlé, Unilever and E.ON say first commercial quantum use cases could be just three years away

Heidi Vella, Freelance journalist

June 13, 2024

3 Min Read
Heidi Vella

The first quantum computing applications for business applications are likely three to four years away, and longer for the hardest problems, a panel of experts told an audience at the Quantum Computing Summit, co-located with the AI Summit London.

Quantum use cases for optimization, simulation and logistics are expected to emerge within this timeframe, the panelists from Nestle, Unilever, Omdia and E.ON, said.

“I think we can expect substantial benefit [in this timeframe] through small percentages in many problems that are important for business,” said Jordi Mur-Petit, global tech lead, emerging transversal technologies, IT innovation at Nestlé.

“For example, for optimization and logistics problems, a 1% improvement for a large corporation wouldn’t be a headline but it would be very important for our company and most likely for others.”

Alberto Prado, global head of R&D digital and partnerships at Unilever said the value of quantum technologies still needs to be justified but he believes there could be use cases for his company in three to five years – but uncertainty still abounds.

Unilever is interested in quantum technology to speed up the discovery of small and midsize molecules and surfactants that are used in its products, such as soaps and shampoos.

Related:Unilever's Alberto Prado on Quantum Computing's Future, Impact on Emerging Tech

“We can maybe identify molecules that help us decarbonize or provide a high level of performance technically,” he said.  

Most of the companies on the panel are investing in exploring possible use cases for quantum technologies through collaborations and partnerships, rather than with dedicated in-house teams.

Energy company E.ON is the exception. It has an internal quantum team and has recently increased its investment in quantum technology R&D. The company wants to find new ways to optimize renewable energy integration into the grid at scale.

In the last 12 months E.ON  has moved from running experiments on 27 qubit hardware machines to 1,500 qubit experiments, said its chief quantum scientist, Corey O'Meara. He added that the internal team has shown the first evidence that efficiently grouping different local energy producers can be scaled better on a quantum chip.

“It's not quantum utility yet, the chips need to get better, but finding these groups of people that generate energy, this is one of our main use cases right now,” he said.

The Holy Grail for quantum computing in life sciences is simulating the molecular interaction between proteins and drug candidates but research into this is forced to compete with other technologies, said Andrew Brosnan, principal analyst at analysis and advisory firm Omdia.

Related:Quantum Optimization Solutions for Aerospace Emerge

“I think generative AI is taking away some of the funding that might have been allocated towards quantum because that's delivering value in the near term,” he said. “The transformative potential of quantum in drug discovery will sustain ongoing interest, however.”

Mur-Petit cautioned, however, that every company should be focusing on post-quantum cryptography as the risk to encrypted data is “here and now” as it can be harvested and decrypted later using future quantum computers. Nestlé is investing in this area but as for the wider use of quantum technologies, he doesn’t expect a “quantum ChatGPT moment anytime soon.”

About the Author(s)

Heidi Vella

Freelance journalist

Heidi is an experienced freelance journalist and copywriter with over 12 years of experience covering industry, technology and everything in between.

Her specialisms are climate change, decarbonisation and energy transition and she also regularly covers everything from AI and antibiotic resistance to digital transformation. 

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