Saudi Aramco links arms with Pasqal to try out quantum computing

French startup helping oil giant see how its business can benefit from the tech

Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil producer, is working with French startup Pasqal to find out if quantum computing can give it a boost in the energy sector.

Pasqal, which develops neutral atom-based quantum computers, said on Wednesday it had agreed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Aramco in which the pair would team up on quantum computing capabilities and applications in the oil and gas industry.

As part of the arrangement, the companies plan to develop machine-learning models that can take advantage of Pasqal's quantum systems and identify which areas in Saudi Aramco's business can benefit from them.

The oil giant will get access to Pasqal's quantum computing platform and the startup's expertise to create new use cases. Saudi Aramco may also incorporate Pasqal's quantum tech into training programs in the future.

Saudi Aramco and Pasqal signing a memorandum of understanding

Saudi Aramco and Pasqal signing a memorandum of understanding

Pasqal said quantum computing can address a variety of areas important to oil producers like Saudi Arabia. This includes refinery linear programming, an optimization model that can help oil producers improve profits by making small adjustments in the refining process. Pasqal believes it can also benefit from network optimization as well as management and reaction network generation.

"For its part, [Aramco] is focused on pioneering the use of quantum computing in the energy sector, positioning itself as an early beneficiary of quantum advantage over classical computers," Pasqal said.

Pasqal sees its work with Saudi Aramco as a jumping-off point for future business opportunities in the Middle East, where it already has a handful of employees and plans to grow staff over the coming years.

Founded in 2019, Pasqal builds computers using quantum processing units that are made from hundreds of neutral atoms in 2D and 3D arrays, which the 70-person firm said can be used to solve computational problems that are hard to tackle using classical computers.

"This is a very promising initiative for Pasqal and a perfect opportunity for us to show not only the energy sector, but the entire world, what our technology can do," said CEO Georges-Olivier Reymond. "It further confirms that our neutral atom technology is one of the most promising in the world."

Many firms testing out quantum

The big question is to what extent the world will witness significant business implications from quantum computing, even if companies like Saudi Aramco do experience major breakthroughs, according to Bob Sorensen, senior vice president of research at Hyperion Research.

"Once it becomes a true competitive advantage, some of that will be much, much less visible," he said. Many commercial organizations are now "kicking the tires" on quantum computing projects in the hope of finding relevant use cases for their businesses, said Sorensen, who counts Pasqal as a client.

A study Sorensen published last November found that half of more than 400 surveyed commercial organizations across the world had a "program in place to explore options and monitor" developments in quantum computing while a third were already undergoing proofs of concept. These organizations spanned several verticals, including aerospace, life sciences, electronics, health care, pharmaceutical, software, telecommunications, manufacturing, and financial services.

The Saudi Aramco-Pasqal deal, according to Sorensen, is "yet another example of an interesting company figuring out how quantum computing can increase its innovative capabilities, augment R&D and add to its overall competitive advantage."

Sorensen said the field of quantum computing, where there can be a lot of hype, is getting to a point where breakthroughs could happen in the next few years. But he's worried that many companies, including Saudi Aramco, may not share detailed results for competitive reasons.

"We'd love to see demonstrated use cases of quantum computing having a measurable impact on business practices," he said. "Right now, the world is really looking for proof-of-concept advantages. There is no knockout, 'gee whiz, I can't believe this happened' success story yet." ®

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