Woodside Energy signs AI and quantum computing deal with IBM

Woodside plans to use the technologies to develop an 'intelligent plant' and reduce its plant maintenance costs by 30%.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Woodside Energy announced on Tuesday it has signed a multi-year collaboration deal with IBM to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing to help it reduce operation costs and develop a "plant of the future" that can run itself.

Speaking at IBM's Cloud Innovation Exchange in Sydney, Woodside Energy CEO Peter Coleman said he believes AI could help the company significantly reduce current plant maintenance costs -- an exercise that the business spends AU$1 billion on annually.

"Because of the products we produce, our plants are covered in cladding and everything is insulated, so it's a huge cost for us to chase corrosion. Of course, AI will help in that. We really think AI will reduce that cost by 30%," he said.

Coleman added AI would also be used to help Woodside keep better track of its materials for future projects.

"We're about to spend our market cap or more on major projects ... we will spend anywhere between AU$40 billion on major projects over the next five to six years," Coleman said.

"One of the biggest issues about these projects is materials and making sure we get the right materials that we've asked for.

"It's an area where AI will help us make sure we have positive material identification all through those projects."

As part of the deal with IBM, Woodside Energy also announced it has become a member of the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, a collaborative industrial-academic lab focused on AI research. It will also join IBM's quantum computing network, called IBM Q Network, as its first commercial Australian organisation.

See also: How IBM Watson is revolutionizing 10 industries (TechRepublic)

According to Coleman, the advantage of these new memberships mean Woodside will be able to develop a self-operating plant using quantum computing.

"People are great in a plant but they fiddle. They often don't get the maximum performance out of a plant and of course, our operation is 2,000 kilometres away from our headquarters so we're moving along to remote operations and getting into a cognitive plant that will be able operate itself," he said.

"Of course, quantum computing can help with the basic physics of what happens in our plant, particularly around flow assurance."

In addition, Coleman outlined how Woodside would also use quantum computing to help it "hide its secrets" from potential cyber attacks.


"We're a critical infrastructure company in Australia -- one of 12 -- that means we get national security looking over us … from the bad guys. We have about 2 million hits a month … and in some countries that can go up 10-fold," he said.

"In one particular country we went into, it went up to 20 million hits per month … that's okay when the operations are 2,000 kilometres apart because operation systems historically have not been joined into major IT systems, but now, they're becoming connected.

"Each one of those connections provide an opportunity for the bad guys to get into your systems. Of course, the evolution of quantum computing is such that we're going to have to be able to hide our secrets."

The deal is part of an ongoing relationship between Woodside Energy and IBM, which started five years ago.

Most recently, Woodside Energy announced how Big Blue is helping the company onboard new employees using AI.

Woodside is one of four current customers in Australia working with IBM Garage, a centre that IBM uses as a test bed to meld human resources (HR), artificial intelligence (AI), and culture. 

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