C12 announces that it recently raised a funding round of €18 million ($19.4 million at today’s exchange rate). Originally founded in 2020 as an offshoot of the Physics Laboratory at the École Normale Supérieure, the company was working on a unique process to create quantum computers based on carbon nanotubes.

Although the concept of quantum computing is not new, it is still a work in progress. Many scientific teams have approached this topic from different angles. The goal is to create a large-scale quantum computer that can perform calculations with a low amount of error.

But wait, why do we need quantum computers in the first place? Today’s computers are based entirely on electronic transistors. And we’ve gotten really good at making transistors smaller so we can pack more transistors into a single chip. As a result, computing power has advanced at an exponential pace over the past sixty years.

However, current computer architecture has its limitations. Even if companies start building larger data centers, some problems simply cannot be solved using traditional computers. It is also unclear whether Moore’s law It will remain valid in the coming years.

This is where quantum computers can come in handy.

“If we want to create a model – a comprehensive simulation of a chemical reaction – to see how new drugs interact with our cells, that’s not possible using the traditional approach,” said C12 co-founder and CEO Pierre Desjardins (pictured right). ) said TechCrunch.

“There are a whole range of optimization problems to solve, whether in transportation, logistics or manufacturing. It is impossible to run them on a traditional computer because there will be too many variables and too many possible scenarios.

Mathieu Desjardins, his brother, has a PhD in quantum physics and serves as the company’s technical director. At one point in our conversation, Pierre Desjardins described his brother as a “scientific genius.”

And because it’s 2024, there’s an AI angle that will convince you of the importance of quantum computing research. “Today, training a large language model also means consuming a huge amount of energy,” Pierre Desjardins said. “Quantum is also a method of computing that uses much less energy.”

How to build a quantum computer

C12 says the two main differences from other teams working on quantum computers are that it uses a different material — carbon nanotubes — and it has a specific manufacturing process — a now-patented nanoassembly process.

“Today, I believe we are the only ones in the world who control this very special process, which involves placing a carbon nanotube on top of a silicon chip. What is absolutely amazing is the scale. The diameter of the carbon nanotube is 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair,” said Pierre Desjardins.

Image credits: C12

Research teams working for large companies like Google, IBM, or Amazon currently focus on a different process. Most use superconducting materials, such as aluminum, over a silicon substrate.

According to C12, while this method led to early breakthroughs. However, using aluminum won’t work on a large scale because of the interference that occurs when you start adding more qubits. Although quantum computing is not yet mature, C12 believes it is working on the next generation of quantum computing compared to these aluminum-based processes.

The company set up its first production line in a basement near the Panthéon in Paris. At this facility, they fabricate carbon nanotubes, control those tubes and then fuse them with a silicon substrate.

“It’s up and running now. Today, we produce about one chip a week, which we then test in our mini-data center,” Pierre Desjardins said. But don’t expect to see a quantum computer just yet. “We’re actually still working on it,” he added. “Just validating the basic elements.” The company is focusing on chips with one or two qubits for now.

Quantum simulation

As R&D progresses, the C12 team is also working on its own business ecosystem. Like many quantum companies, C12 has created a simulator called Callisto. Simulators allow developers to write some quantum code and run it on a classical computer.

They won’t get the results they would with a quantum computer, but at least they’ll be up and running quickly when quantum computers become available.

“We are currently focusing on two sectors, the chemical industry and the energy industry. The chemical industry uses it to simulate chemical reactions and the energy industry uses it mainly to solve optimization problems,” Pierre Desjardins said. “In particular, the startup has a partnership with Air Liquide.”

Image credits: C12

If we go back to the funding round, Varsity Capital, EIC Fund and Verve Ventures are investing in it; Existing investors 360 Capital, Bpifrance’s Digital Venture Fund and BNP Paribas Développement are also participating again in this round.

There are 45 people of 18 different nationalities working at C12 today, including 22 PhDs. With the recently raised capital, C12 plans to sign more partnerships with industrial partners. But the company also has a research goal.

“Another goal is to implement, for the first time, a quantum operation between two qubits located at a long distance from each other,” Pierre Desjardins said. By long distance he means “tens of micrometres” from each other. It doesn’t sound like much, but it will be key when it comes to scaling up quantum computing.

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