Don't worry. It's not as evil as it sounds.
Volkswagen is teaming up with a Canadian-based quantum technology company called Xanadu. The companies are committed to a multiyear research program to improve the performance of quantum algorithms for simulating battery materials.
In short, VW and Xanadu want to move away from the existing classical methods, such as density-functional theory, and replace them with quantum simulation programs. Don't worry if you don't understand the above sentence. Our knowledge of quantum physics is also limited to what we learned via the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We also know the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp movie is called Quantumania.
But part of this job is translating hardcore science into palatable pieces of information. Still, just in case you better understand quantum technology, VW and Xanadu have already published a paper on the topic.
So, let's start with the basics first. These companies want to replace old-school methods like density-functional theory (DFT).
It has been around since the mid-1960s, and it's basically the process of using powerful numerical computers to run atomistic models. These computers understand every element on the periodic table, right down to the atomic arrangement. They cut down on development time by running simulations and finding a suitable material a company can use for whatever. DFT can also predict how a material will react in all sorts of conditions. A simple example is how lithium will cope with hot and cold weather. For the record, lithium-ion batteries only operate optimally within a small temperature window.
According to VW and Xanadu, these existing computers are reaching limitations on research areas critical for building better batteries.
"At Xanadu, we are pushing the frontiers of quantum computing hardware, software, and algorithms. Our goal in quantum algorithms research is to make quantum computers truly useful. Focusing on batteries is a strategic choice given the demand from industry and the prospects for quantum computing to aid in understanding the complex chemistry inside a battery cell," said Juan Miguel Arrazola, Head of Algorithms at Xanadu. "We are thrilled to be working alongside the fantastic team at Volkswagen to perform cutting-edge research focused on overcoming the technical obstacles in quantum algorithms that will be necessary to unlock the potential of quantum computing for battery development."
According to the press release, the most significant potential lies in material discovery. In other words, a new battery power source that doesn't rely on lithium, which is also a finite resource constantly increasing in price.
It may seem odd, but keep in mind that other scientists recently discovered that batteries could also be made from seafood waste. At the same time, another team theorized that seaweed could be used to produce sodium-metal batteries.
"Working together with cutting-edge companies like Xanadu is like hopping on a speedboat heading for the horizon: Quantum Computing might trigger a revolution in material science and optimization, key competences to grow our in-house battery expertise," said Dr. Nikolai Ardey, Head of Volkswagen Group Innovation.