Search begins for quantum growth centre operator

The federal government has begun accepting pitches from quantum computing companies to establish the Australian Centre for Quantum Growth, almost six months after the initiative was funded.

A grant of up to $18.5 million over four years is now on offer to a consortia of organisations wanting to set up and operate the centre, which will aim to boost the sector by connecting researchers with industry.

It is the first new funding to be made available to the sector since the launch of the national quantum strategy and comes as the government progresses a plan to acquire a full-stack error-corrected quantum computer.

Operating as a single ‘front door’ for the quantum industry, the new centre aims to “build awareness and promote quantum technologies and their applications to end users”, according to the Industry department.

“The centre will build genuine, strategic and lasting relationships spanning industry, research, consumer and government stakeholders to drive innovation and translation,” the department said in the grant opportunity guidelines.

“It will accelerate the growth of the quantum industry in Australia and increase Australia’s global competitiveness by supporting greater collaboration and coordination of research and development, focusing on industry-led solutions that boost the adoption and diffusion of technologies.

Announcing the opening of the grant opportunity at QuintessenceLabs in Canberra on Monday, Industry minister Ed Husic described the program as “one step forward”, following the release of the quantum strategy.

“When it comes to quantum tech, we have some emerging firms here in Australia and we’re determined to build on that. Time and again Australia has been at the front of the pack in emerging tech only to see that lead fritter away, without proper investment and support,” he said.

The centre – which is expected to have at least one physical location but could have a network of facilities – is slated to begin operating in June next year. Applications will close on the January 24, 2024.

As many as five organisations will reportedly be in the running for the grant funding. The grants will cover 75 per cent of the costs of establishing and operating the centre, with the consortia expected to pitch in the remaining 25 per cent.

Funding for the centre was provided as part of a $101 million package of industry support programs in this year’s Budget. Around $76 million of that funding has been earmarked for artificial intelligence initiatives.

Since the Budget, the government has also approached a small number of local and foreign quantum computing firms as part of a plan to acquire a full-stack error-corrected quantum computer, as revealed by last month.

The government has been accused of tilting its secret approach to market in favour of technology being pursued by US-based PsiQuantum, which has a publicly stated ambition to deliver its first commercial quantum computer in less than six years.

Mr Husic and the Industry department have so far declined to comment on the expressions of interest process, which has been kept under wraps through unusually strict non-disclosure agreements.

“When we make definite positive decisions that utilise taxpayer dollars in the nation’s interest… we will speak fully about that and answer questions. But people can speculate as much as they like,” Mr Husic told last month.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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