CSIRO eyes fast growth quantum tech sector


Stuart Corner
Contributor

The CSIRO is calling for Australia to co-ordinate and collaborate on a range of quantum technologies, saying the sector could support 16,000 jobs and generate over $4 billion in annual revenue by 2040.

These are the findings of a new CSIRO report: Growing Australia’s Quantum Technology Industry. It has produced estimates for three branches of quantum technology: computing, $2.5 billion annual revenues and 10,000 jobs; sensing and measurement, $900 million and 3,000 jobs; communications (quantum-enhanced cybersecurity solutions and network technologies) $800 million and 3,000 jobs.

The quantum computing numbers assume Australia capturing 10 per cent of the global market, and those for sensing and communications five per cent of the global market.

Quantum growth: CSIRO sees big opportunities for Australia

Overall, the report assumes quantum technologies will capture two to four per cent of their respective markets. However, it says the two to four per cent figure could be exceeded by a considerable margin.

According to the report, Australia has already established itself as a pioneer in quantum technology R&D through over two decades of targeted research efforts, and these efforts have resulted in the emergence of a variety of quantum technology start-ups.

Quantum computing has yet to be commercialised but CSIRO chief scientist Dr Cathy Foley, in her foreword to the report, said quantum sensing was already delivering commercial benefits.

“CSIRO has developed an innovative mineral exploration system using superconducting quantum sensors. The commercial use of these systems has enabled mineral resource discoveries worth billions of dollars over the past 10 years.”

Dr Foley told InnovationAus that achieving the successful outcomes flagged in the report required effective collaboration and co-operation between industry, researchers and government.

“You’ll have a level competition, because this is a very competitive area, but [researchers] need to work collaboratively with governments to identify the different components and different stages as we need them,” she said.

“There needs to be recognition that a partnership between industry, the research community and government is needed to make this happen.”

She said production of the report itself had been a collaborative effort, funded by the CSIRO, that augured well for the future.

“That process [production of the report] has been really important for bringing the community together so they know where their own priorities are, where the competitive opportunities are, realise where the commonalities are and how working together in those common spaces is what is needed to create an industry.

Dr Foley said it was likely that any successful Australian quantum technology startups could attract investment by multinationals and the roadmap aims to create an environment that would make it attractive for them to base operations in Australia.

“We want to make sure we have the workforce, and the government has the right policy settings so it makes sense for big companies to be here and undertake manufacturing here, which is the vision of most states and the federal government.”

She added: “We’ve already seen investment in quantum computing in Australia with multinationals Microsoft and Rigetti Computing investing here.”

The report says Australia has yet to articulate a long-term strategy and clear investment priorities for the quantum technology industry.

It says the country must act now to secure its competitive advantages and enable the growth of its domestic quantum industry, by “implementing a focused and nationally coordinated approach to enhancing its capability, collaboration, and industry readiness.”

It says this strategy should include

  • development of a national quantum technology strategy that sets long-term strategic priorities, commitments and indicators of success;
  • efficient and effective funding mechanisms to support the demonstration and commercialisation of quantum technology applications and enable the growth of emerging quantum businesses;
  • attracting, training and retaining the best quantum talent and determining future skills needed to support industry development and growth;
  • assessing the industry capabilities and infrastructure facilities critical to the success of a domestic quantum industry and developing business cases to address any gaps.

CSIRO says the report was developed in consultation with over 80 stakeholders from more than 40 organisations across the quantum technology industry, and from formal submissions to a discussion paper released in November 2019.

Clarification: This article has been changed to remove a suggestion that any successful Australian quantum technology startups would ultimately end up being owned by overseas multinationals, but to emphasise the strategy aims to create an environment that would make it attractive for multinationals to base operations in Australia.

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