Leaping from approximation to accuracy

In ExxonMobil’s view, the future of energy solutions is quantum
City at night and skyscrapers

Flipping a light switch. Powering our phones and computers. Heating or cooling our homes. Access to energy touches nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s essential for human development.

According to ExxonMobil, a significant portion of the global population faces daily challenges in accessing energy, impacting public health and preventing many from fully realizing their potential. Energy challenges will become even greater as global population grows, from 7.5 billion today to a projected 9.2 billion by 2040.

ExxonMobil’s leaders refer to this as society’s ‘dual challenge,’ to provide reliable and affordable energy to a growing population, while reducing environmental impacts and the risks of climate change. The company is working to tackle this dual challenge by using computers to model energy states and chemical reactions down to the molecular level.

World population is projected to increase to

9.2

billion people by 2040

At current trends

1.2

billion of them will lack access to electrical energy

We've taken classical computing to a level that quite frankly is beyond imagination. And even with that, we can't solve some of the most fundamental problems, because we just don't have the accuracy.
Dr. Vijay Swarup
ExxonMobil Vice President of Research and Development
Accurate Modeling, Game-Changing Solutions

One of Swarup and team’s greatest obstacles, even when they’ve used classical supercomputers, is computation limitations. Today’s computers can solve some incredibly complex equations, but our fundamental understanding of energy is in many cases still an approximation.

“We've taken classical computing to a level that quite frankly is beyond imagination,” Swarup explains. “And even with that, we can't solve some of the most fundamental problems, because we just don't have the accuracy when it comes to chemistry fundamentals. There's a lot of approximation that's done, and it's limited by computing power.”

That mission-critical need to move from approximation to accuracy became the driving force of ExxonMobil’s research partnership with IBM’s quantum team. Working together across multiple skillsets and physical distance, their common goal is to advance the potential use of quantum computing in developing next-generation energy technologies and solutions.

“Quantum computing is in its early stages, which is why we’re excited to be working with IBM” acknowledges Swarup. “We both know in our bones we can use it to do remarkable things.”

Person at a workshop
IBM Quantum computers lab
There are huge global challenges that we can tackle in the foreseeable future. When quantum scales to become utterly disruptive, we’ll be ready.
Dr. Vijay Swarup
ExxonMobil Vice President of Research and Development
The Global Energy To-Do List
There are huge global challenges that we can tackle in the foreseeable future. When quantum scales to become utterly disruptive, we’ll be ready.
Dr. Vijay Swarup
ExxonMobil Vice President of Research and Development

Quantum computers could provide new capabilities to simulate chemistry, leading to massively impactful developments in energy sustainability and efficiency. Quantum could support discoveries to spark large-scale carbon capture, or identifying new catalysts and active materials for low energy processing. Other areas of opportunity include optimizing a country’s power grid or performing more predictive environmental modeling for resource exploration.

In a global collaboration at this level, ExxonMobil relies on IBM to design and relentlessly improve the quantum hardware and software, and works alongside IBM experts to test new generations of algorithms.

“It's a different way of thinking,” says Swarup. “And once you get your head around it, it allows you to think deeply about the problems that are uniquely suited to quantum computing. There are huge global challenges that we can tackle in the foreseeable future, when quantum computing scales to become utterly disruptive. We’ll be ready.”

Pushing Toward Real-World Solutions

ExxonMobil’s quantum team is composed of applied mathematicians, optimization experts, computational chemists – scientists who can do the fundamental research needed on new algorithms but have line of sight to what matters in energy. That perspective has been a benefit not just to ExxonMobil’s own research, but to the entire IBM Quantum Network community. In a short time, they’ve begun engaging and collaborating with the entire network, and often posing thoughtful questions to others in the community.

Like ExxonMobil, most of the members of the IBM Quantum Network are facing real-world challenges they’ve been trying to solve for years. But they recognize that, at this early stage, their best game plan for quantum is not to just seek a particular output, but to also focus on learning how to create such output. So that, in a future where quantum devices have transcended the limits of classical computing, they’ll know how to use them to best effect. What members soon realize is that, while you may need a Ph.D. in Physics to build a quantum device, all they need to use one is their own expertise and curiosity.

About ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest publicly traded energy providers and chemical manufacturers, develops and applies next-generation technologies to help safely and responsibly meet the world’s growing needs for energy and high-quality chemical products.

About IBM Quantum Network

IBM Quantum Network is a community of Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, startups and national research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing.

About ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest publicly traded energy providers and chemical manufacturers, develops and applies next-generation technologies to help safely and responsibly meet the world’s growing needs for energy and high-quality chemical products.

About IBM Quantum Network

IBM Quantum Network is a community of Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, startups and national research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing.