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Catalysis Looks to the Future
improving existing ones. Increasing public concern with the effects of chemicals and industrial emissions on the environment calls for the discovery and development of processes that eliminate, or at least minimize, the use and possible release of hazardous materials. Concern with the environment and the supply of raw materials is also focusing attention on opportunities for recycling. Of particular interest for the chemical industry is the prospect of producing polymers that are readily recyclable. Although the world supply of petroleum is adequate for current demand, there is a need to continue the search for technologies that will permit the conversion of methane, shale, and coal into liquid fuels at an acceptable cost. Also, to maintain their economic competitiveness, U.S. producers of commodity and fine chemicals will need to shift to lower-cost feedstocks and processes exhibiting higher product selectivity. Taken together, these forces provide a strong incentive for increasing research efforts aimed at the discovery and development of novel catalytic processes and for continuing to extend the frontiers of catalytic science.
The following are benchmark discoveries made over the years in the science and technology of catalysis:
100 years ago: Paul Sabatier (Nobel Prize 1912) at the University of Toulouse started work on his method of hydrogenating organic molecules in the presence of metallic powders.
70 years ago: Irving Langmuir (Nobel Prize 1932) at General Electric laid down the scientific foundations for the oxidation of carbon monoxide.
50 years ago: Vladimir Ipatieff and Herman Pines at UOP developed a process to make high-octane gasoline that was shipped just in time to secure the victory of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain.
30 years ago: Karl Ziegler and Giulio Natta (Nobel Prize 1963) invented processes to make new plastic and fiber materials.
17 years ago: W. S. Knowles at the Monsanto Company obtained a patent for a better way to make the drug L-Dopa to treat Parkinson's disease.
Today: Thomas Cech (Nobel Prize 1989) at the University of Colorado received U.S. patent 4,987,071 to make ribozymes, a genetic material that may, one day, be used to deactivate deadly viruses.
The above examples deal with materials for health, clothing, consumer products, fuels, and protection of the environment, but all have a common feature: they rely on chemical or biochemical catalysts.
WHAT ARE CATALYSTS?
What are catalysts, these substances that hold the keys to better products and processes, and continue to have a strong impact on our health, economy, and quality of life? A catalyst is a substance that transforms reactants into