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Quantum Infromation
NETL, Partners Advance Quantum Technologies to Monitor and Protect Nation’s Energy

Projects supported by NETL in the emerging field of quantum information science (QIS) are opening doors to new technologies to better monitor operating conditions in advanced power plants and safeguard the nation’s energy infrastructure against cyberattacks.

QIS, which investigates phenomena at the scale of nature’s smallest particles, is expected to profoundly change the practice of science and engineering in the coming decades. QIS technology exploits quantum phenomena for performing tasks that are impossible to do today, such as elucidating reaction mechanisms in complex chemical systems. NETL has launched an initiative for applying QIS to deliver integrated solutions to enable the transformation to a sustainable energy future.

These NETL-supported projects call for harnessing QIS to enhance the ability of sensor technology to function in harsh energy-producing environments and reduce the susceptibility of power plants and other energy infrastructure to cyberattacks. Two university partners for NETL, the University of California, Riverside (UC-Riverside) and University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), currently have research and development efforts within this technical area focused on quantum sensing and secure communications, respectively. 

Funding allocated to both schools was awarded under NETL’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Other Minority Institutions (HBCU-OMI), which is part of the University Training and Research Program within Crosscutting Research. Projects funded under this HBCU-OMI program are intended to provide student training and research opportunities for traditionally underrepresented communities in the fields of science and technology related to fossil energy resources and carbon management technologies.

To reduce carbon emissions and use less fuel, power plants of the future will need to operate in a highly efficient manner. The UC-Riverside project is designed to use real-time quantum dynamics simulations and quantum optimal control algorithms to harness nitrogen vacancy centers to detect small molecular analytes (such as hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, ethane and nitrogen dioxide) in harsh fossil energy environments and design optimally constructed electromagnetic fields for efficient sensor performance and detectivity.

Collectively, these objectives will leverage QIS to enable extremely sensitive monitoring of critical operating parameters in fossil energy infrastructures under harsh environments. The theoretical and computational approaches used in this project will provide a new predictive capability that has significant advantages compared to conventional efforts. Those advantages include lower costs and the opportunity to improve the efficiency of fossil energy power plants.

“Harnessing quantum information science with NETL provides an exciting opportunity to push the capabilities of sensors with quantum mechanics to enable new sensing modalities beyond classical limits,” said Bryan Wong, the project’s principal investigator and professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Materials Science  Engineering Program, UC-Riverside.

The UTEP research project is devoted to replacing the binary communication systems in energy systems that make them susceptible to cyberattacks. Traditional computers represent data in the binary values of either 0 or 1. Quantum computing uses qubits (quantum bits), which could superimpose the ones and the zeros — in other words, store or represent the bits simultaneously.

Unlike classical bits, qubits-based communication, where the data is highly encrypted in the many superpositions between 0 and 1, is highly secure. The quest for a high-performance qubit to realize qubit-based information technology is ongoing. The overarching objective of the UTEP project is to enhance the performance of graphene quantum dots (GQD) qubit platforms for application in highly secure quantum communication systems intended to be used in cyber-resilient energy infrastructure.

The primary benefits of the project include development of an alternate and significantly improved strategy to formulate GQD qubits to support ongoing research to create highly secured communication systems. The project will also drive development of a diverse workforce with unique capabilities in quantum science and engineering, especially GQD-qubit fabrication, characterization and application.

“We thank NETL for this opportunity as this project has been awarded to UTEP at a time when the United States is on a mission to become a global leader in the area of quantum science and computing. This project, within UTEP, can help create awareness about this emerging scientific field and related technological implications,” said Sreeprasad Sreenivasan, principal investigator.

“In addition, advanced research and training experience gained through this project will help graduate students become successful scientists or engineers in the future,” Sreenivasan said.

Both research efforts being conducted by UC-Riverside and UTEP are at the forefront of NETL’s investigation into meaningful ways that quantum technologies may be applied to fossil-based energy systems and carbon management technologies. It is hoped that the research outcomes contributed by these HBCU-OMI universities through these innovative projects will help influence future strategic goals for the U.S. Department of Energy regarding these emerging QIS technologies.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory develops and commercializes advanced technologies that provide clean energy while safeguarding the environment. NETL’s work supports DOE’s mission to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy and environmental challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.