CryoConcept: absolutely committed to ultra-low temperatures

Published on March 29, 2022

At temperatures close to absolute zero, revolutionary technologies such as quantum computing become possible. Reaching these ultra-low temperatures in industrial environments is a major challenge—one which Air Liquide affiliate CryoConcept is best placed to surmount.

Just southwest of Paris you’ll find some of the world’s most advanced technology being developed in France’s equivalent to Silicon Valley. Around the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) based in Saclay, diverse laboratories, experimental facilities and specialized high-tech companies have made their home. One of these is CryoConcept, a producer of ultra-low temperature dilution refrigerators.

Initially, the company was part of the condensed matter physics laboratory (SPEC), which is under the direction of the French National Atomic Energy Commission. "The company spun off in 2001 and now, twenty years later, it has more than 120 systems in use across the world," explains Guillaume Desache, CryoConcept’s Managing Director. The company’s overarching goal is simple: to create cooling power at extremely low temperatures. Around 100 times colder than outer space, temperatures of near 10 milliKelvin (a chilly -273.14°C) cause particle motion to slow almost to a complete standstill as matter starts to exhibit unusual properties, such as superconductivity. 

Ultra-low temperatures are thus crucial to conducting cutting-edge research in quantum computing, research in which Air Liquide is deeply invested. The Group took an 80% stake in CryoConcept in 2020, and synergies abound.

The future of quantum computing

For all its simplicity, CryoConcept’s aim represents a considerable technological challenge. The principle underlying the company’s core products is dilution refrigeration, whereby the mixture of  two isotopes of helium—helium 4 and helium 3—creates an intense cold. Building dilution refrigerators is a highly specialized area of precision engineering, and CryoConcept’s customers list reads like a who’s-who of advanced research facilities tackling some of physics’ most enduring conundrums. One example: a recent contract signed with the Max Planck Institute, to supply refrigeration for dark matter research.

The highly stable, ultra-low-temperature environment created by the trademarked Ultra-Quiet Technology (UQT) is especially ideal for quantum computing and can be customized to suit highly specific requirements. Luc Gaffet, Fusion and Big Market Science Director, Global Markets & Technologies at Air Liquide, expects quantum computers to be carrying out calculations currently beyond our grasp by 2030. "This will lead to exceptionally powerful algorithms which can work very fast—carrying out within hours or minutes the calculations which today’s machines would need thousands or millions of years to compute."

Indeed, quantum computers may soon be able to carry out calculations that would take today’s machines millions of years, creating solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems. Today, the world’s largest quantum computers have in the order of 100 qubits1. CyroConcept’s current objective is to help the actors in this field reach their 1 million qubits objective, which will require larger, industrial-scale dilution refrigerators—a challenge they are taking on in partnership with Air Liquide.

Partners in innovation

The CryoConcept and Air Liquide teams work hand-in-hand in a partnership characterized by mutual confidence and a shared vision. In addition to advancing research and development in cryogenics, Air Liquide is accompanying CryoConcept to gain competences in industrialization. "To go beyond research use and into industrial or safety-critical applications, our products need higher reliability and better availability," says Guillaume Desache. Moreover, there is strong potential for joining up processus between the companies: "Air Liquide runs helium liquefiers, and we are working on a way to couple these with our dilution refrigerators."

Luc Gaffet agrees that the collaboration is a win-win. "CryoConcept helps us to enlarge our  customers' offer, bringing a new level in extremely low temperatures. Also, their technology uses helium 3 and helium 4, two very rare molecules, which we supply."

CryoConcept has long had the technology and experience to engineer ultra-low temperatures, and now it has the expertise, facilities and resources of Air Liquide. With more business opportunities already in the pipeline, Cryoconcept is poised to play a pivotal role in the global advancement of quantum computing power.
 

Objective for the end of the decade: reaching 1 million qubits of computing power
1. For Josephson technology. The number of qubits is one of the indicators of computing power available for a quantum computer.