A new $18.5 million federal government grant will put a select group of industry and academic partners in the box seat for the upcoming wave of quantum technology adoption as operators of the Australian Centre for Quantum Growth.
“When it comes to quantum tech, we have some emerging firms here in Australia and we’re determined to build on that,” Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic said in a press release when the grant applications opened on Monday.
“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.”
The Centre for Quantum Growth is intended to expand Australia’s industrial and commercial base for technologies that lean on the unique properties of quantum physics.
It will open no later than 31 March 2027.
Only consortia of organisations that have at least one active Australian quantum industry participant are eligible for the grant.
The Centre for Quantum Growth’s operators will have a unique opportunity to better map the local quantum ecosystem and its supply chains while getting in the ear of business decision-makers.
Because of the commercial advantage provided by the grant, it will be a hotly-contested tranche of taxpayer money.
Information Age can confirm the grant has attracted interest from the local arm of at least one large international tech company .
According to the grant’s opportunity guidelines [PDF], the winning consortium will be expected to “provide advice on quantum use cases”, for example, and “[educate] industries on the benefits of adopting quantum technologies” via “C-suite briefings”.
It will also be able to spend an uncapped amount of the $18.5 million on “acquiring IP and/or leading-edge technology” so long as they can prove it’s related to one of the centre’s projects.
The government will no doubt be wary about ceding too much control of the centre to international partners given the backlash to its favouring of California-based PsiQuantum during a secretive Commonwealth process to procure a quantum computer, as revealed by Information Age.
But US tech giants will no doubt contribute to the competing consortia, especially given the close connection the likes of Microsoft and IBM have with Australian quantum companies and researchers.
State governments, though ineligible to lead the project, may wish to join bidding consortia to try and have the Australian Centre for Quantum Growth based in their jurisdictions. Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales have all signalled a desire to encourage emerging local quantum industries.
Quantum mechanics – a field of physics that is only 100 years old – describes the unintuitive properties of our subatomic universe.
In recent decades, scientists and engineers have explored ways to exploit this strange physics for purposes like solving specialised computing problems, communicating via secure channels, and sensing extremely delicate aspects of reality.
The field has been gaining momentum as the likes of Google and IBM compete to build systems with an ever-expanding number of quantum bits (qubits) and defence organisations begin real-world tests of quantum accelerometers to help navigate without GPS.
Australia has long punched above its weight when it comes to quantum research, having fostered a network of the world’s leading researchers through decades of academic funding.
But as research paved the way for commercialisation, local expertise began to disperse and take up lucrative roles at big foreign tech companies or start their own internationally headquartered firms.
Industry Minister Ed Husic has been vocal about the government’s desire to support the local quantum ecosystem and avoid letting a bleeding edge research and development advantage slip away.
Earlier this year, Husic’s department released Australia’s first National Quantum Strategy, which has five pillars: research and development, supply chain, creating a skilled workforce, standardisation, and expanding the ecosystem.
The $18.5 million for the Australian Centre for Quantum Growth is part of Husic’s promised tech investments finally starting to materialise.
Late last week, he and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher finalised the mandate for the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund which will soon start doling out cash with a view of generating a return on investment.
That fund will look to invest $1 billion in critical technologies including AI, robotics, and quantum.