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Catalysis Looks to the Future
in situ observation of an olefin complexed to zeolite acid sites by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, and in situ characterization of several reaction intermediates by a variety of spectroscopic techniques. Theoretical modeling is now ready for substantial growth as a result of progress in computer technology and in theory itself. For these reasons, it is desirable to focus on areas in which the extensive scientific and technological resources of academe and industry may lead to the fastest practical results. In order of priority, these areas are
in situ studies of catalytic reactions;
characterization of catalytic sites (of actual catalysts) at atomic resolution (metals, oxides);
synthesis of new materials that might serve as catalysts or catalyst supports; and
theoretical modeling linked to experimental verification.
Furthermore, additional steps must be taken to facilitate interaction and, in fact, cooperation between industry, dealing with proprietary catalysts, and academe, developing advanced characterization tools for catalysis.
Catalysis plays a fundamental role in the economy, environment, and the public health of the nation; it underlies several of the critical national technologies identified in the 1991 Report of the National Critical Technologies Panel. Specifically, two of the largest industry segments, chemicals and petroleum processing, depend on catalysis; many of the modern, cost-and energy-efficient environmental technologies are catalytic; and biocatalysis offers exciting opportunities for producing a broad range of pharmaceuticals and specialty chemicals, and for bioremediation of the environment.
As opposed to some other areas of technology, the United States still plays a leadership role in catalysis, as evidenced by the general superiority of U.S. petroleum conversion processes and most chemical processes, and by the net positive chemical trade balance of the United States. However, this position is eroding rapidly, due to the heavy investment in R&D of Japan and the European Community.
Major opportunities exist for developing new catalytic processes and for advancing the intellectual frontiers of all branches of science pertaining to catalysis. To take advantage of these opportunities,careful attention must be given to effective use of the nation'sresources, so that the United States can maintain its leadershiprole.