Quantum computers hold the promise of tackling problems that no regular computer is capable of solving. However, a key limitation they face is that most types require bulky, energy-hungry refrigerators to keep qubits at near absolute-zero temperatures. Now researchers say new devices that operate a bit like vacuum tubes could slash the size and power consumption of these fridges by a factor of 10.

Google, IBM, Amazon and others are building quantum computers based on superconducting circuits that have to be chilled to near absolute zero. Currently, they depend on large, complex, expensive systems known as dilution refrigerators, which use multiple stages of cooling to chill circuits to 1 Kelvin or below. The complexity of these refrigerators is greatest at the coldest stage, which involves mixing different isotopes of liquid helium.

Instead of pumping cryogenic fluids, scientists in Finland are developing purely electronic methods of refrigeration that could prove much smaller and simpler, while consuming 1/10th the power of today’s systems.

“Our technology could help the industry scale down overall quantum computer system size,” says Mika Prunnila at the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland in Espoo.

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