Comedy is easy; battery research is hard. Physicists can theorize about what elements on the periodic table will work together to make good anodes or cathodes, but in the end someone has to go into the lab and put all the pieces together to see what works. There are so many variables — energy versus power, longevity, number of charge/discharge cycles, recyclability, availability of resources, toxicity, ease of manufacture — and each has to be taken into consideration. It is like baking a soufflé with a nearly infinite number of ingredients that all have to be added in just the right amount at just the right time. It’s tricky stuff. No wonder the pace of development is so painfully slow.
Researchers at Volkswagen are hoping to harness the power of quantum computers to shorten the time needed to bring next generation batteries for electric cars to market. Computer simulations could do in days or even hours what humans need years to accomplish. The company is working with experts in quantum computing from Google and D-Wave.
“We are focusing on the modernization of IT systems throughout the Group,” says Martin Hofmann, CIO of the Volkswagen Group. “The objective is to intensify the digitization of work processes — to make them simpler, more secure and more efficient and to support new business models. This is why we are combining our core task with the introduction of specific key technologies for Volkswagen. These include the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, as well as quantum computing.”
So far, the program has succeeded in simulating industrially relevant molecules such as lithium-hydrogen and various carbon chains. Work on more complex chemical compounds will come next, according to Electric Hybrid Vehicle Technology. The objective is for Volkswagen to be able to model a complete vehicle battery on a quantum computer. Such modeling will make it possible to adjust parameters such as weight, maximum power density, and cell assembly details. The hope is the process will allow the company to go straight into production with advanced batteries and bypass the long and expensive battery development process.
“We are working hard to develop the potential of quantum computers for Volkswagen. The simulation of electrochemical materials is an important project in this context,” says Florian Neukart, principal scientist at Volkswagen’s CODE Lab in San Francisco, California. “In this field, we are performing genuine pioneering work. We are convinced that commercially available quantum computers will open up previously unimaginable opportunities. We intend to acquire the specialist knowledge we need for this purpose now.”
Data scientists, computer linguists, and software engineers are collaborating at Volkswagen’s IT labs in San Francisco and Munich to develop the algorithms that will be needed to drive the quantum computer-based research forward.
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