By Youssra El-Sharkawy
Quantum computing, an emerging technology, has the potential to bring massive changes to many industries, including the oil and gas sector, in the near future, as researchers expect.
Currently, large technology companies like Google and IBM are competing to make quantum computers a reality, while scientists expect this technology to be available for ordinary people in the coming few years.
Quantum computers are not made to replace classic computers. Instead, both computing systems will be able to work with various degrees of functionality. Unlike classic computers, quantum computers are incredibly powerful and extremely fast. They can speed up algorithms and solve problems related to searching through large data sets, which comes in hand to manage the great amount of data from oil and gas operations.
What is Quantum Computing?
Vern Brownell, CEO of D-Wave Systems – the world’s first quantum-computing company, told the McKinsey Global Institute that a quantum computer is a type of computer that directly leverages the laws of quantum mechanics to do a calculation.
“The idea behind this computational scheme is to use the fundamentals of quantum physics – such as superposition and entanglement of particles like electrons- to process the information we need,” Kareem El-Safty, a communications and electronics engineer who has an interest is AI and quantum information science, told Egypt Oil & Gas.
The smallest unit of data in a computer is called a bit. In classical computers, a bitcan be either 0 or 1, while in quantum computers, a bit, under the name of qubit, can be 0 and 1 at the same time. It can also have negative values, which is not possible with regular computers.
“Instead of using zeros and ones, an electron can be treated as a 1 or a 0 at the same time, thus, accelerating the processing speed. Moreover, we can make an interesting connection between a couple of electrons that if they are separated by millions of miles, they can affect each other. This phenomenon is called entanglement and we can use it for communications security,” added El-Safty, who is also an instructor at Fab Lab Ismailia.
He further explained that, once the technology becomes applicable, its operations will most probably be done on the cloud. This comes as, according to the principles of quantum physics, quantum computers are required to be at temperatures cool enough to avoid individual molecules from moving and causing data loss. With the inexistence of laptops or hardware that can be frozen near zero Kelvin or –273.15 degrees, which is the temperature quantum computers would require, the cloud comes as an option. The technology itself would also be maintained by large companies like IBM or D-Waves due to the same requirement.
Quantum Computing & the Oil and Gas Sector
Although quantum computing is still taking its first steps, scientists believe that it can solve complex challenges in the oil and gas industry and increase production.
Oil and gas exploration and production methods are highly complex and include a massive amount of data, which are time sensitive and need to be analyzed immediately. It is very difficult for regular computers to properly analyze this amount of data as most systems can only analyze few or small amounts at a time. Quantum computers come as time-saving devices that can accurately analyze the petroleum industry’s big data and improve the sector’s efficiency.
“The oil industry produces everyday more than 1.2 terabytes of data, some of these data are very sensitive and time dependent that it must be processed on time. With so much data, non-convex optimization problems arise and it is a real challenge for classical computers to handle it unlike quantum computers,” El-Safty explained.
According to experts, quantum technologies will be the backbone of future computing as it will help with the optimization of problems and supply chain analytics. In the petroleum industry, using quantum computers will lead to a very rapid production and distribution of oil products. Additionally, scientists can use quantum algorithms to simulate new molecules to create new strong and environment friendly materials.
Disadvantages of Quantum Computing
Researchers and scientists expect quantum computer to be able to perform all the tasks that a classical computer can. However, this is not what quantum computers are made for. Using classical operations on a quantum computer will lead to the same results a classical computer can achieve. Instead, quantum computers should be used in performing operations that are of quantum parallelism.
The biggest disadvantage of quantum computers is that it has not been totally invented yet. Scientists aspire for the huge change this technology can make in the future, but, at the same time, they still expect quantum computers to need decades before people can have them in their homes or offices.
“Like any other new technology, quantum computing is still a newborn; there is not any stable framework. Everyday a new idea comes up. But recently, huge companies started to offer cloud services directly to the crowd. It is not cheap, not portable like a laptop, but we all know classical computers started the same way,” El-Safty explained.
Quantum Computing in Egypt and MENA
Some researchers in Egypt and the Middle East have started to dig deeper into this new technology. Currently, there are academic groups in Alexandria and the UAE that are working on publishing papers on quantum computing, according to El-Safty.
“The Arab Gulf is the richest region with oil and gas and I think, due to the global warming conditions, there are some constrains about boosting the oil trend, but in case they want faster production, I think the MENA region will be the first to witness a great boost from quantum technologies,” he stated, adding, “As for Egypt, we are still immature for such a huge leap, because we do not have the required infrastructure or even the right market.”
Aya Mohamed AbuElsoud, a young researcher in quantum computing and a student in the Faculty of Computer and Information in Mansoura University, told Egypt Oil & Gas that this technology still needs a very long time to be implemented in Egypt.
“In Egypt, I think it needs years to be implemented. For example, I have been looking for anyone to help me in my research about this technology for more than two months. I only found one doctor in my faculty. Even on LinkedIn, I found only one Egyptian engineer interested in this technology, and the rest were foreigners,” AbuElsoud disclosed.
“There is not enough scientific research in Egypt. Also, engineers should be aware of this new technology, because still many of them do not know anything about it,” added AbuElsoud, who wants to join Zweil University for scientific research to continue her research in quantum computing.
Agreeing with AbuElsoud, El-Safty said that people should be aware of quantum physics and how it affects us in our daily lives.“We have to spread out the word of quantum engineering and make the scientific resources available to everyone so as to catch up with other countries. And most importantly of all is to invest in this long run shot. It will not pay off soon, but eventually it will alternate our lives as Egyptians and the whole MENA,” he added.
The benefits of quantum computing to the oil and gas industry are promising. As the technology still takes its first steps toward implementation, Egypt can catch up with researchers from around the world to develop and master the operation of quantum computers. In line with Egypt’s plans of becoming a regional energy hub, investing in research and professional capacitation in quantum engineering comes as a secure way to maintain Egypt’s position as a hub in the future.