Executive Summary

Catalysis is critical to the U.S. chemical industry. Sixty percent of today’s chemical products and 90 percent of current chemical processes are based on catalytic chemical synthesis. Therefore, general advances in the field of catalysis could potentially have many applications, as well as a major impact on the entire $500-billion industry.

In December 1996, a group of chemical industry organizations, including the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Council for Chemical Research, and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, produced a report entitled Technology Vision 2020. The report outlined the current state of the chemical industry, proposed a vision for the future, and identified the technical advances that would be necessary to make this vision a reality. The report noted that continued advances in chemical synthesis would be necessary to maintain the competitiveness of the U.S. chemical industry. The report recommended that the industry work toward the following goals:

  • the development of new synthesis techniques incorporating the disciplines and approaches of biology, physics, and computational methods

  • increased collaborations in research and development (R&D) on surface and catalytic science relevant to commercial products and processes

  • improved understanding of the fundamentals in synthesis, processing, and fabrication for structural control of complex molecular architectures

  • increased support for fundamental studies to advance the development of chemistry in alternative reaction media

In March 1997, the Council for Chemical Research sponsored a follow-up study to Technology Vision 2020. The results of that study and a subsequent workshop were summarized in The Catalyst Technology



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Executive Summary Catalysis is critical to the U.S. chemical industry. Sixty percent of today’s chemical products and 90 percent of current chemical processes are based on catalytic chemical synthesis. Therefore, general advances in the field of catalysis could potentially have many applications, as well as a major impact on the entire $500-billion industry. In December 1996, a group of chemical industry organizations, including the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Council for Chemical Research, and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, produced a report entitled Technology Vision 2020. The report outlined the current state of the chemical industry, proposed a vision for the future, and identified the technical advances that would be necessary to make this vision a reality. The report noted that continued advances in chemical synthesis would be necessary to maintain the competitiveness of the U.S. chemical industry. The report recommended that the industry work toward the following goals: the development of new synthesis techniques incorporating the disciplines and approaches of biology, physics, and computational methods increased collaborations in research and development (R&D) on surface and catalytic science relevant to commercial products and processes improved understanding of the fundamentals in synthesis, processing, and fabrication for structural control of complex molecular architectures increased support for fundamental studies to advance the development of chemistry in alternative reaction media In March 1997, the Council for Chemical Research sponsored a follow-up study to Technology Vision 2020. The results of that study and a subsequent workshop were summarized in The Catalyst Technology

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Roadmap Report, which also emphasized that advances in catalysis would be a fundamental factor in the economic viability of the chemical industry. The report also identified and ranked areas in which improvements in catalytic technologies could significantly contribute to meeting the goals of Technology Vision 2020. These two reports provide a framework for the present study. This study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Industrial Technologies (OIT), was designed to bring together a panel of industrial experts with diverse areas of interest and points of view to identify high-impact opportunities for OIT’s applied research programs. The committee was charged with addressing the following tasks: Identify opportunities for the use of catalytic process technologies in manufacturing applications with an emphasis on the Industries of the Future (IOF) and a focus on opportunities for chemical and petrochemical synthesis and processing, including biocatalysis of fossil or petroleum-based materials. Recommend applied research areas in catalytic processing that are consistent with OIT’s program strategy and objectives. Suggest means by which industry can leverage research results in federal programs, including those at other federal agencies, national laboratories, and other DOE offices. Although this report is focused on identifying opportunities for applied research, the committee wishes to express its strong reservations about government funding for applied research at the expense of projects that would not otherwise be pursued by individual corporations, such as long-term, high-risk, but potentially high payoff, theoretical research in catalysis or the development of tools that would accelerate advances in catalysis. RECOMMENDATIONS The committee reviewed the previous studies primarily to ascertain industry’s point of view. Data from this review, additional source material, and input from a cross section of technology leaders were then collected. The committee identified the six areas that would have the greatest impact on the industry: alkane activation and selective oxidation; synthesis of fine chemicals; alternative and renewable resources; olefin polymerization; alkylation technology; and environmental applications. Research areas were considered for their direct impact on technology advances, their timeliness, their probability of success, the cost of investment relative to the potential benefit, and their appropriateness for government support.

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Because of the breadth and diversity of the field of catalysis, the committee was unable to prioritize these six areas. The committee strongly believes that they are all important and that they all have potentially high payoffs. In addition, they are all applicable to OIT’s strategies for reducing energy requirements and minimizing waste and pollution. OIT’s decision to fund a project, however, also depends on the technical and economic merit and impact of each proposal. Based on the experience and expertise of committee members, the two most important and appropriate opportunities for catalytic research in each area (or crosscutting research, such as sintering) are recommended for funding by OIT. All proposals submitted to OIT for research projects should include both metrics for measuring progress and estimates of the potential impact on the industry as a whole. Recommendations for Applied Research Alkane Activation and Selective Oxidation Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support the development of catalysts and processes for the low-temperature, oxidative dehydrogenation of alkanes to alkenes. Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support the development of mixed-metal oxide catalysts for alkane activation using predictive computing methods. Synthesis of Fine Chemicals Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support the development of catalysts with substantially improved synthetic versatility and atom economy. Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support the development of enzymes with substrate specificity and stereoselectivity for chiral synthesis in fine chemicals. Alternative and Renewable Resources Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support a study of alternative, lower cost means of producing synthesis gas from alternative resources.

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Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support the development of processes for converting biomass to feedstocks and polymers. Research should focus on microorganisms, biological catalysts (enzymes), and traditional catalysis. Olefin Polymerization Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support the development of catalysts that can copolymerize olefins with a diverse class of polar unsaturated monomers. Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support the development of catalysts that are tolerant of common impurities, such as water and amines. Alkylation Technology Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support the development of catalysts with ultrahigh selectivity. Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support the development of catalysts with tolerance to functional groups. Environmental Applications Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support a study to evaluate “step-out” innovative catalyst strategies for controlling nitrogen oxide emissions in lean environments. Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support the development of a basic understanding of the sintering of supported metals. Policy-Related Recommendations In addition to technical recommendations, the committee was asked to suggest means by which OIT could help industry leverage research resources and federal programs, including programs at other federal agencies, national laboratories, and other DOE offices. In keeping with OIT’s program strategy

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and objectives, the committee recommends that government support only precompetitive, high-risk, innovative research. Short-term, applied research should be supported by industry. Innovation Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should support precompetitive, high-risk, innovative research that has a high potential of addressing targeted industry needs. Computational Technology Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should assist industry in supporting the development of high-throughput screening and computational technologies that would benefit the entire chemical industry. Funding for Catalyst Research Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should consider reducing the number of projects it funds and coordinating its projects with those of other federal agencies to provide enough critical mass to support innovative research in many areas. Proposal Review Process Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should promote industry involvement in the proposal review process and also streamline this review process. Program Metrics Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies (OIT) should establish aggressive objectives and procedures for assessing the progress of each program. Programs should be formally reviewed annually by OIT and semiannually by industry participants.

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Research Centers Recommendation. The Office of Industrial Technologies should encourage and facilitate the formation of “virtual catalyst research centers” based on the unique capabilities of the national laboratories.