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BMW, Airbus, Quantinuum Team for Fuel Cell Research

Quantum hybrid approach used to develop method for simulating quantum systems

Berenice Baker, Editor, Enter Quantum

August 2, 2023

2 Min Read
An Airbus A380 passenger aircraft
An Airbus A380 passenger aircraftAirbus

Quantum computers are showing early promise in simulating technologies that use quantum effects, such as studying how to make the fuel cells that power a new generation of sustainable transportation more efficient.

Airbus, BMW Group and quantum computing company Quantinuum have developed a hybrid quantum-classical workflow to speed up future research using quantum computers to simulate the quantum systems in fuel cells.

The companies focused on modeling the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) process that takes place on the surface of a platinum-based catalyst. ORR converts hydrogen and oxygen into water and electricity in a fuel cell, but it limits the efficiency of the process because it is relatively slow and requires a large amount of platinum catalyst.

Understanding the ORR reaction could help identify alternative materials that may improve the performance of future fuel cells and reduce their production costs. Modeling chemical reactions such as ORR accurately is an intractable task for classical computers due to the quantum properties of the chemical mechanisms involved. Simulations such as this could potentially demonstrate quantum advantage in the future.

The companies focused their research on the chemical reactions of catalysts in fuel cells using Quantinuum's H-Series quantum computer. They published the results in a technical paper, “Applicability of Quantum Computing to Oxygen Reduction Reaction Simulations,” and plan to continue their collaboration to explore the use of quantum computing to address relevant industrial challenges.

Related:Airbus Looks to Quantum to Save Time, Costs: Q2B 2023 Paris

Airbus plans to start testing a hydrogen-powered fuel cell propulsion system onboard its ZEROe demonstrator aircraft in the next few years. The company has a goal of developing the world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft for market entry by 2035. 

“We can clearly envision the benefits of the study in our quest for sustainable and hydrogen-powered alternatives such as the ZEROe aircraft, which may operate on fuel cell engines. The study confirms that quantum computing is maturing at the scale we need for aviation,” said Airbus vice-president of central research and technology Isabell Gradert.

“Being able to simulate material properties to relevant chemical accuracy with the benefits from the accelerating quantum computing hardware is giving us just the right tools for more speed in innovation for this decisive domain,” said BMW Group vice-president of research technologies Peter Lehnert.

“In this pioneering work, we demonstrate how to integrate quantum computing into the industrial workflows of two of the world's most technologically advanced companies, tackling material science problems that are a prime target for progress using quantum computing,” added Quantinuum chief product officer Ilyas Khan.

About the Author(s)

Berenice Baker

Editor, Enter Quantum

Berenice is the editor of Enter Quantum, the companion website and exclusive content outlet for The Quantum Computing Summit. Enter Quantum informs quantum computing decision-makers and solutions creators with timely information, business applications and best practice to enable them to adopt the most effective quantum computing solution for their businesses. Berenice has a background in IT and 16 years’ experience as a technology journalist.

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