Quantum computing quests for carbon capture compounds

Quantum computing is being used to solve some of our thorniest problems. It’s no surprise, then, that the technology is being leveraged to solve one of our biggest challenges: carbon capture.

Now researchers from the National Energy Technology Laboratory and the University of Kentucky are using a quantum computer algorithm to find useful amine compounds for improved atmospheric carbon capture.

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, humans have continued to produce carbon in ever-increasing quantities. Without removal, the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere will continue to wreak havoc for centuries.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and stores it, often sequestering it deep underground.

Amines are employed to chemically bind with carbon dioxide. If the efficiency of those amine compounds can be optimised, it could lead to the capture of billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide (CO2).

As reported in Quantum Science, the NETL and University of Kentucky researchers are employing a quantum computing and a special algorithm to speed the process of searching different amine compounds.

The study’s author, Qing Shao said, “We are not satisfied with the current amine molecules used in this (carbon capture) process. We are trying to find a new molecule to do it, but if we want to test it using classical computing resources, it will be a very expensive calculation. Our hope is to develop a fast algorithm that can screen thousands of new molecules and structures.

Any computer algorithm that simulates a chemical reaction needs to account for the interactions between every pair of atoms involved. Even a simple three-atom molecule like carbon dioxide bonding with the simplest amine, ammonia, which has four atoms, results in hundreds of atomic interactions. This problem vexes traditional computers but is exactly the sort of question at which quantum computers excel.

However, quantum computers are still a developing technology and are not powerful enough to handle these kinds of simulations directly. This is where the group’s algorithm comes in: It allows existing quantum computers to analyse larger molecules and more complex reactions, which is vital for practical applications in fields like carbon capture.

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