Chief Scientist meeting asks if quantum can help make mining better

Quantum physics researchers and Australian miners are exploring new ground.

Representatives from the two groups came together on invitation from the office of the Chief Scientist, to attend a meeting called “Quantum Meets Resources” to connect the two seemingly siloed groups, and find mining solutions with quantum technology.

“Too often in Australia and globally from what I am hearing, the quantum community has just been talking amongst themselves,” Dr Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist told Cosmos.

“These kinds of technologies have been developing and improving, but the whole industry hasn’t been brought along with them.”

The event included mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP, as well as quantum researchers from around Australia.

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Cathy Foley. Credit: Jacinta Bowler

“We can’t continue to drill to define. We have to start thinking about how we can eventually drill to verify,” Asmita Mahanta, Global Practice Lead Geophysics at BHP said in a presentation at the event.

“I think that’s where the quantum technology will be able to help us in the future.”

The event highlighted four key topics – sub-surface imaging to scout for mineral deposits; geo-positioning underground without access to GPS; environment and risk management; and how to use quantum computers for big data.

“The important thing is really understanding the needs from the end user perspective,” said Professor Chris Vale, Director of the Quantum Technologies Future Science Platform at CSIRO.

“Meetings like today … are really about trying to connect to end users, identifying real end use cases, understanding their needs, and trying to bring them along in the journey of developing the technology.”

The researchers highlighted that while some technologies – such as quantum sensors – were in some cases already useable in the field, technologies like quantum computers still needed more time to mature.

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Chris Vale. Credit: Jacinta Bowler

“There is real potential for quantum computing to do amazing things across a range of areas in the mining sector. Logistics problems, dealing with big data for example, is really potentially very useful,” said Vale.

“However, getting the fully error-corrected, fault tolerant quantum computer that can do that is at least 10 years off.”

These are still very early stages – the event was more of a ‘meet and greet’ for the two groups than any kind of final product. But Foley is confident that we may see more quantum in mining in the future.

“Everything comes out of the earth, whether it’s the food we eat or the materials we use every day,” she told Cosmos at the meeting. “We have to work out how to do that efficiently, effectively, and with the least impact possible. And I hope in five years’ time that quantum techniques will help them do all that, so everyone benefits.”

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