by Florian Budde and Daniel Volz
The chemical industry is poised to be an early beneficiary of the vastly expanded modeling and computational capabilities of quantum computing. Companies must act now to capture the benefits.
The principal reason chemical companies could be early adopters this time is that the level of performance needed from a quantum computer to undertake computations that could benefit chemical companies is a moderate one. A report recently coauthored by BASF and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology extrapolated the number of logical qubits needed to simulate chemical processes such as the seminal Haber-Bosch ammonia process to roughly 1,000 qubits. In contrast, extrapolations for a typical RSA encryption application (such as the factorization of a 1,024-bit prime number) suggest a resource requirement of about 1.5 million qubits.
Experts from industry and academia estimate that the first quantum-computing applications that promise to be useful for the chemical industry will require between roughly 1,000 and 10,000 qubits and may be here by the early-to-mid 2020s.
In addition, the entry barrier is low for the chemical industry because using quantum computers will fit well with the industry’s current research approach. Quantum computing with new and more accurate algorithms will be able to complement DFT and other tools. Most important, it will not be necessary to make fundamental changes in the ways research is done.
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