Leading companies in automotive and aviation – Airbus, BMW group – have joined with Quantinuum to develop a process to accelerate research using quantum computers. Their focus is simulating chemical reactions in fuel cells.
In a new technical paper, the partners report accurately modelling the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) on a platinum catalyst surface. ORR is the process where hydrogen and oxygen convert to water and electricity in a fuel cell. But ORR is slow and needs lots of platinum, so a better understanding of it has a big value.
Using Quantinuum’s quantum system, the team showed how quantum computing could enhance comprehension of this important chemical reaction in an industrial setting. The companies plan to further partner on applying quantum to real-world challenges.
BMW’s Dr. Peter Lehnert said “Circularity and sustainable mobility are putting us on a quest for new materials, to create more efficient products and shape the future premium user experience. Being able to simulate material properties to relevant chemical accuracy with the benefits from the accelerating hardware is giving us just the right tools for more speed in innovation for this decisive domain.”
Airbus’ Isabell Gradert said the study clearly shows the benefits at the scale needed for aviation. Airbus thinks hydrogen could power low-carbon aircraft. Since hydrogen makes no CO2 in flight if produced sustainability, Airbus aims to test hydrogen fuel cell planes soon and launch the first hydrogen passenger aircraft by 2035.
Quantinuum’s Ilyas Khan said they’ve been eager to support leaders like BMW and Airbus in using quantum computing to advance sustainable transportation. This pioneering work integrates quantum into the workflows of two highly innovative companies, applying it to complex material science problems where this could drive major progress.
The team believes understanding ORR better may help identify improved fuel cell materials that boost performance and reduce costs. Accurately modelling chemical reactions like ORR is intractable for normal computers because of quantum effects. So such simulations are a promising area for potential speedup.
Find out more about Airbus quantum program here.