Data & Analytics

Why Quantum Computing Remains in Early Stages in the Oil and Gas Industry

Although quantum computing, or quantum processing, has still not become a reality in the oil and gas industry, it will prove disruptive according to an executive of a Brazilian player.

Credit: BNamericas.

Although quantum computing, or quantum processing, has still not become a reality in the oil and gas industry, it will prove disruptive according to an executive of a Brazilian player.

In quantum computers, atomic and subatomic particles are used to store and process data, replacing transistors and semiprocessors of traditional computers.

That creates the potential to carry out complex analyses in seconds for which traditional devices would need years. This power could be used for more-predictive modeling in the oil and gas industry, faster field analysis and more efficient carbon capture. But many challenges remain.

“In terms of the value of information, there is a lot to be done. The quantum computer has not become a reality. It is not yet a commodity, accessible to everybody. We think it will be a disruptive sector to democratize all the sectors, especially oil and gas,” said Tamara Garcia, research and development manager of Repsol Sinopec Brasil, at a digital transformation event organized by the World Petroleum Council and Brazilian oil association IBP.

In late 2019, Repsol Sinopec launched in Brazil AIRIS, or Artificial Intelligence RSB Integrated System. This $5.22 million supercomputer, or high-processing-capacity (HPC) computer, was developed in partnership with the Supercomputing Center for Industrial Innovation of Brazil’s industrial apprenticeship agency Senai.

Other examples of HPC devices in use are Petrobras’ Dragão, Atlas, and Fenix, reportedly the most powerful supercomputers in operation in Latin America.

AIRIS has processing capacity of 800 teraflops, meaning it can run 800 trillion operations per second, equivalent to 5,000 ordinary PCs. But quantum computers work at exponentially higher capacity.

"Freed from the constraints of classical computers’ 0s or 1s, quantum computing’s qubits can hold more complex information using a physical process that can deliver optimal results faster," consultancy Accenture wrote in a report.

"Quantum computing is the physicist's dream and the engineer’s nightmare."

Complex Development
According to a GlobalData report from May on quantum computing in the oil and gas industry, quantum units are extremely difficult to build and commercial quantum computers will not be available for decades.

“However, within the next 5 to 7 years, intermediate quantum computers are likely to become available that can offer a quantum advantage over classical computers in certain optimization applications across, for example, space warfare, logistics, drug discovery, and options trading,” GlobalData said.

In the oil and gas industry, the units could prove highly valuable to reduce operational costs and risks, run powerful simulations, and help curbing emissions.

Among players embracing quantum processing to date are ExxonMobil, Total, Shell, and BP, according to GlobalData.

IBM is standing out as provider, but energy firms are also relying on D-Wave, Microsoft, and Atos. The latter, a specialist also in HPC equipment, is the provider of Petrobras’ supercomputers, for example.

In 2019, ExxonMobil became the first energy company to join the IBM Quantum Network, a global initiative involving companies, startups, academic institutions, and national research laboratories to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications for science and business.

Hurdles include the difficulty of engineering quantum devices. Quantum computing requires highly specialized expertise combining physics, chemistry, and computing, which is not widely available for energy companies.

Claudio Makarovsky, director of energy industries at Microsoft Brasil, said during the event that the scarcity of skills was a chief constraint involving the adoption of new technologies.

Repsol Sinopec's Garcia, in turn, said constraints are mostly related to “commercial services, to availability.”

Microsoft is ahead with the Azure Quantum, a full-stack, open cloud global ecosystem having as partners 1QBit, Honeywell, IonQ, and QCI to assemble solutions, software, and hardware across the industry via Azure cloud. The initiative also aims to promote quantum development.

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