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Novel Ceramic/Metallic Materials February 2021 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Rob Edmonds

Microcrystals and Room-Temperature Quantum Computing

Why is this topic significant?

Most prototype quantum computers need to operate at extremely low temperatures, increasing cost and reducing possible applications. Signposts suggest that future optical quantum computers that contain microcrystals could work at room temperature.

Description

Scientists at the Institute of Physics of the University of Tartu have published research in Optic Communications about the potential for rare-earth ions to create fast and reliable quantum computing. The research suggests that microcrystals (mixed optical fluoride crystal matrices) doped with erbium, praseodymium, and other rare-earth ions could work as qubits in future optical quantum computers. Qubits are the fundamental computing units of quantum computers. Unlike the binary bits of classical computing, qubits can hold many more states than 0 and 1—one of the reasons that researchers hope quantum computers will prove much more powerful than conventional computers.

Many prototype quantum computers rely on superconducting materials operating at extremely low temperatures to measure electron-spin states. According to one of the University of Tartu researchers, Dr. Vladimir Hizhnyakov, future optical computers with the new high-frequency microcrystal qubits would be able to operate significantly faster and with more reliability than superconducting quantum computers can operate. In quantum computing, faster speeds reduce interference, improving reliability. The University of Tartu researchers are currently working on a pilot prototype of a quantum computer that contains the new qubits.

Implications and Disruptions

Although the University of Tartu researchers do not emphasize the possibility of room-temperature optical quantum computers, this feature could be a breakthrough capability of optical quantum computing if it proves possible. Fairly obviously, if quantum computers need specialized cooling, they are expensive and complex to operate and unsuitable for mainstream applications (unless provided as remote cloud services). By contrast, room-temperature quantum computers could eventually lead to commonplace quantum devices for computing, sensing, and communications.

Other researchers certainly see optical quantum computers as providing the best path to room-temperature technology. In 2020, US Army researchers demonstrated the feasibility of a room-temperature quantum logic gate comprising photonic circuits and optical crystals. In January 2021, a coalition of researchers from research institutions in the United States, China, and Hong Kong published research about a method to lab grow diamonds with elastic properties that researchers can leverage for room-temperature optical quantum computing.

Room-temperature quantum computers are increasingly plausible but far from a current reality. The University of Tartu researchers working on optical quantum computing all acknowledge that they are still at only the early stages of research.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years to 15 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Materials, computing, communications, sensors

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Ceramic Catalyst for Recycling Waste

Why is this topic significant?

A novel ceramic sponge could help convert common waste products into biodiesel, medicines, and fertilizers.

Description

An international team led by RMIT University (formerly known as the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Melbourne Technical College) in Melbourne, Australia, has developed a novel ceramic catalyst to aid recycling. The highly porous, micron-size ceramic sponge contains active components (including those at the nanoscale) to accelerate chemical reactions. SciDev.Net reports that the method could recycle cooking oil and agricultural waste into biodiesel and convert food waste, microplastics, and tires into molecules for medicines, fertilizers, and biodegradable packaging.

RMIT University professor of sustainable chemistry Adam Lee, co–lead investigator of the international team, says that the catalyst is cheap to fabricate, easy to reuse, and able to neutralize common contaminants. The team is currently working to scale up the catalyst from the gram to multikilogram scale and to create catalysts for multiple waste streams, including used cooking oil, sugarcane bagasse, and vegetable scraps.

Dr. Lee outlines the catalyst's prospects for commercialization: "We are hoping to bring our first catalysts to market in one to two years and reduce costs to US$5,000 per kilogram. Our team has already devised a strategy to fabricate catalysts specifically tailored for jet fuel production from waste tyres which we hope to perfect within three years, with next-generation catalysts in the pipeline for agricultural and forestry waste conversion."

Implications and Disruptions

Landfills produce a significant amount of methane—a greenhouse gas that bacteria create when they break down organic matter (in this case, agricultural waste) in the absence of oxygen. And burning agricultural waste can lead to poor air quality and health issues. Although still at an early stage of research, the new catalyst points to new ways to make use of waste products to develop a wide range of products.

Other organizations are also working on new catalysts for waste recycling. For example, researchers from Osaka City University and Tohoku University in Japan recently published research that outlines a new catalyst that integrates ruthenium (a metal belonging to the platinum family) and cerium dioxide to recycle commonplace polyolefinic plastics. The new catalyst operates at a lower temperature (and therefore requires less energy) than do existing recycling methods.

New catalysts for waste recycling certainly have good commercial potential, likely through already well-established catalyst players (examples include Eurecat, Hensel Recycling, Umicore, and BASF). According to a recent study by MarketInsightsReports, the global waste-catalyst-recycling market was worth $4.8 billion in 2018 and will likely reach a value of $5.9 billion by 2023.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Materials, recycling, catalysts, energy

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: