etensively in the 1992 National Research Council report, Catalysis Looks to the Future.1

Catalysis is especially critical in the chemical and petroleum-processing industries, which are the two largest industrial energy users in the United States. 2 The U.S. chemical industry alone is estimated to account for approximately a quarter of global chemical production ($450 billion per year),3 thus the impact of catalysis on the U.S. economy is substantial. Furthermore, success in catalysis research has contributed to the strong position of the U.S. chemical industry. Examples of industrially important catalysts include

Single-site polymerization catalysts, organometallic-based catalysts used in U.S. industry to produce over 2 billion pounds of polyolefins every year. Some of the polyolefins include long-chain branched copolymers of ethylene with α-olefins, new elastomers, and ones produced as a result of a new process for ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) rubber. The new EPDM polymerization processes are more efficient, use less energy, and use less capital than prior technology. As a result, most of the world production of EPDM materials now uses the single-site polymerization catalysts.

Platinum-group metal catalysts, which have been used in catalytic converters to reduce automobile tailpipe emissions. Catalytic converters have been used on all new cars since the mid 1970s. On the basis of measurements by the Environmental Protection Agency at over 250 sites, the average carbon monoxide (CO) concentration has dropped by 60 percent from 1990 to 2005—largely because of the use of catalytic converters. Most cars today are equipped with three-way catalytic converters, which use newer catalysts that reduce emissions of CO, hydrocarbons or volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxides. Unfortunately, the optimal fuel mix for effective catalytic converter operation is often not the same as the optimal fuel efficiency mix, increasing carbon dioxide production.

Zeolite catalysts, crystalline microporous materials that are used in a wide variety of industries, from oil refining to production of fine chemicals.4 Zeolites are key catalysts in the petroleum refinery units known as fluid catalytic crackers, which are at the heart of gasoline and diesel production. Zeolites have enabled


National Research Council. 1992. Catalysis Looks to the Future. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


2002 Manufacturing Energy Data Tables. Energy Information Administration. Accessed February 2, 2009.


Industrial Technologies Program: Chemicals Industry of the Future. U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed May 9, 2008.


Davis, M.E. 2003. Materials Science: Distinguishing the (Almost) Indistinguishable. Science 300(5618):438-439.

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