AI, Quantum and Hybrid Cloud to Accelerate New Materials Discovery in 5 Key Areas by 2025 – IBM Research


2020 has been an unusual year. From the global Covid-19 outbreak that stalled the world’s economy to the huge threat of global warming spurred by the Australian and Brazilian fires which cost millions of acres of rain forests, this year has created the greatest challenges of the last decade.

All through these challenges, science and technology have stood at the forefront of the battle to find solutions, thereby illuminating its essential role in the next phase of human evolution.

As the world shifts and evolves to face the new challenges, the need to rethink how the world creates, consumes and disposes of materials is essential to achieve sustainability.

IBM’s “5 in 5” predictions

As part of its contribution, IBM has unveiled its “5 in 5” predictions about five significant changes driven by innovation in science and technology that will take place in the next five years.

In a chat with Technext, Maletsabisa (Tsabi) Molapo, a Research Scientist with IBM Research (Africa) explained that the predictions are based on IBM’s research into what’s happening currently in the world and what science could be capable of in a five year period.

She added that it focuses on advancing technologies including AI, quantum, high-performance computing and hybrid cloud to accelerate science and new materials discovery in 5 key areas.

“5 in 5” predictions are the five areas IBM thinks the world will have a radical change in the next five years

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Capturing and transforming Carbon dioxide (CO2) to mitigate climate change

Over the next five years, IBM wants to be able to capture and reuse CO2 efficiently from the air. This is so that it can be scaled globally to reduce the level of the harmful CO2 in the atmosphere and, ultimately, slow climate change.

Tsabi revealed that although there are currently methods to extract CO2 from the air, they are, however, too expensive, energy-intensive and not sustainable.

There are already theoretical methods to capture CO2 from the atmosphere like clinical absorption of gases from the atmosphere and using membranes to filter co2 from other gases. This is, however, very expensive and energy-intensive this means it can not be scaled globally.

Maletsabisa (Tsabi) Molapo, Research Scientist, IBM Research – Africa

She added that IBM research has a cloud-based knowledge base of existing methods and materials where researchers are collecting pieces of how in chemistry and in other fields CO2 is actually being captured and then using different techniques of natural language processing to actually mine information to discover new cutting edge approaches that are more sustainable and that can be scalable globally.

Speaking of other ways IBM is helping to reduce Climate Change, Tsabi elaborated that the other 4 predictions are in a way directed towards reducing climate change.

Ability to artificially convert nitrogen into nitrate-rich fertilizer

The current method of producing fertilizers around the world is not sustainable because of the amount of energy that goes into converting nitrogen into nitrate in the current manufacturing process.

The current way of making fertilizers takes up to 3% of the energy used on the planet

IBM wants to change the current manufacturing process by replicating nature’s ability to convert nitrogen in the soil into nitrate-rich fertilizer. By doing this it plans to feed the world while reducing the environmental impact of Fertilizer.

To achieve this over the next 5 years, IBM research scientists explained that the old method of creating fertilizer is not ideal. She said there’s need to engage a paradigm shift to accelerate science and technology so that there could be both better fertilizer that improves soil sustainability and an efficient process to produce it.

If we keep making fertilizer the same way that we did since the middle of the last century then we won’t be able to sustain production and as a result, affect food production. But if we are able to now start discovering new ways, which IBM is leading right now we can discover this and other new sustainable ways that will produce food in the next hundred Years.

Maletsabisa (Tsabi) Molapo, Research Scientist, IBM Research – Africa

Environmental-preferable batteries

Since the popularity and use of battery is growing exponentially, IBM wants to create new materials for safer and more environmentally-preferable batteries capable of supporting a renewable-based energy grid.

According to Tsabi, the new material will make batteries more sustainable, not just in production but also in use and disposal.

The research scientist explained that the team working on it has made considerable progress. She revealed that they have developed a Cobalt and Nickel Free battery that has already shown to have higher power density, lower flammability and much faster charging times than most conventional batteries.

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Advanced Materials Manufacturing

Asides batteries, IBM also wants to create a sustainable method of producing semiconductors. It plans to achieve this in the next five years by leveraging AI, quantum, high-performance computing and hybrid cloud to accelerate the creating of new materials.

Quantum Computer

It also hopes to be developing efficient and sustainable process of producing semi-conductors like chips.

New generation of Treatment

The contribution of technology to the generation of treatment has been monumental over the last decade. At IBM, Tsabi revealed that it has a big drug discovery team that is working towards the generation of new treatments.

She explained that it uses artificial intelligence through Quantum Computing to support healthcare workers and accelerate the process of discovering new drugs.

Following the current COVID-19 pandemic, IBM Research will be facilitating the generation of treatments to aid physicians and front-line workers in combating novel, life-threatening viruses on a larger scale than is currently possible.

Impact of the 5 predictions in Africa

The central theme of this year’s 5 in 5 predictions is Accelerating the Discovery of New Materials for a Sustainable Future. So all the predictions will have an impact on Africa because questions of sustainability affect Africa as much as they do the rest of the world.

Tsabi believes that Africa is well-positioned for accelerated discovery and innovation over the next decade, and the sustainable discovery, manufacturing and disposing of materials will be critical as part of this future.

IBM scientists, Xiaoyan Shao (left) and Conrad Albrect, are interacting with the IBM PAIRS Geoscope service.

Challenges and solution to the 5 Predictions in Africa

Speaking on the possible problems IBM’s 5 predictions may face in Africa, Tsala revealed that a major challenge will be the slow rate of discovery in Africa.

She further explains that Africans need to to be more involved in Scientific research and solving problems that matter for the continent using AI, Quantum and Cloud to accelerate scientific discovery and innovation.

Another low point is the slow adoption and limited access to this computing infrastructure on the continent which hampers invention and discovery.

To remedy this, IBM is investing heavily in skills development and access to compute infrastructure on the continent. Examples include Quantum network with Wits University, which enables students and faculty members from over 9 African countries to have access to the IBM Quantum infrastructure.

Related read: IBM Expands its Quantum Computing Program to Africa, with Three Nigerian Universities to Benefit


IBM Research, with its “5 in 5” predictions, aims to accelerate the rate at which we make new scientific discoveries in a way that is more sustainable for the future of the entire Earth.

From reducing the effect of climate change both in computing in science and in society to helping the earth’s increasing population thrive with the introduction of new materials and new methods of living.

IBM Research comprises of 19 world-class research facilities with more than 3,000 researchers spread across 12 laboratories on six continents

To achieve this goal, IBM is investing in IBM Research to directly fund ongoing scientific research and discovery into all predictions.

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