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Catalysis Looks to the Future 4 National Resources for Catalytic Research The national resources for conducting research on catalysts and catalytic processes are distributed among academe, national laboratories, and industry. This chapter briefly reviews the type of research conducted in each institution and the available level of support. INDUSTRY The development of new chemical processes based on catalytic technology is carried out almost exclusively in industry and, to a much lesser extent, in national laboratories and universities. The commercialization of a new catalytic process is capital-intensive, and the time from the discovery of a viable catalyst for a new process to commercial plant start-up may be as long as 10 to 15 years. Research can contribute to a minimization of this time lag. Most new processes are sufficiently complex that large-scale pilot plants are required to collect the high-quality basic data needed to design and build safe, clean, and efficient commercial plants. In these pilot plants, many new issues must be resolved. The effects of operational variables, such as pressure, temperature, feed composition and purity, contact time, and recycle, on catalyst life and performance are evaluated. Often, and quite surprisingly, trace contaminants can build up and seriously affect a catalyst, so that additional improvements must be made. Physical property data must be measured, and viable methods of isolating and purifying the product and intermediates must be developed. Industry and government agencies are requiring higher standards for product quality and for disposal of waste by-products and spent catalysts. The venting of unwanted
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Catalysis Looks to the Future products and deep-well injection of aqueous and organic waste are receiving close attention and are likely to become unacceptable in the near future. New techniques to return these products to the process or render them innocuous must be developed. This entire development process can easily cost tens of millions of dollars and lead to a new commercial plant that may cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Multidisciplinary teams of highly trained professionals are required with expertise in areas such as kinetics; organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry; process control; materials science; separations; and all of the fundamental unit operations of mechanical and chemical engineering. The supply of talent is best provided by our educational system. Once a new process has been commercialized, very little time may be spent in providing a detailed understanding of the chemistry involved because resources are often quickly shifted to other projects to meet short-term profit objectives. Developing a basic understanding of new and significant chemical processes represents an excellent opportunity for collaboration between academic researchers and their industrial counterparts. Industrial laboratories account for a very significant amount (greater than 90%) of the total R&D dollars spent on catalysis-related research and development. The panel conservatively estimates that the total amount of money spent annually on catalysis R&D in industry is $500 million to $1 billion. Of this, 90-95% is used for solving development and environmental problems; hence, relatively little is directed toward long-range research leading to new discoveries. The current practice of sharply restricting the investment of R&D funds in long-range research is of considerable concern, because it could adversely affect the ability of the United States to remain a world leader in the provision of new catalytic technologies. UNIVERSITIES A primary objective of our university system is to provide suitably educated students to enter academic, government, industrial, or other chosen careers. In addition, in the field of catalysis, research universities provide new experimental techniques, new instrumentation to study catalysts at the molecular level, new catalytic materials, and new theoretical concepts and approaches for understanding the structure of catalysts and the dynamics of catalyzed reactions. Given the significance of catalysis to the United States, an interest in science must be encouraged at all levels in the educational process to provide the necessary supply of qualified teachers and educated professionals. Students need to be educated in the basic skills of catalysis that are anticipated and required by industry. Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that obsolete equipment must be upgraded regularly to provide students with hands-on experience in using state-of-the-art equip-
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Catalysis Looks to the Future ment. Research programs should not be closely tied to proprietary industrial needs but could easily supplement those needs. Universities must continue to provide an environment in basic science for developing new and leading-edge technologies. This is a long-range process, and so sufficient time and funding should be provided to ensure continuing progress. Support for university research on catalysis comes primarily from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and, to a much lesser extent, from the Gas Research Institute (GRI), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and the Petroleum Research Fund (PRF) of the American Chemical Society. The distribution of support is listed in Table 4.1. During the past five to seven years, the level of federal funding in catalysis has remained constant in dollars. However, inflation and rising overhead costs have reduced the purchasing power of this support. If the United States is to retain its leadership position in the field of catalysis, its level of support for academic research in catalysis must increase. This investment will pay off not only through the provision of well-educated young talent for industrial and other research organizations, but also through a continuing expansion of the reservoir of fundamental knowledge on which all researchers depend for new ideas and concepts. In recent years, federal support of university research has been supplemented to a small degree by industrial grants and contracts. The incentive for this support has been industry's growing awareness of global competition and the resulting pressure to control R&D expenses. These pressures have necessitated a reduction in the level of long-range, fundamental research done in industry. To offset this trend, several companies have undertaken the support of such research at universities. This support of university research by industry has led to a very good leveraging of resources. In some states there is money available, dollar for dollar, to match industrial Table 4.1 Funding for Catalysis-Related Research at Universities (millions of dollars—1989) Research Funded Source of Funding Total Funding NSF DOE DOD NIH GRI EPRI PRF Chemical catalysis 11.7 14.3 1.2 0.0 2.4 1.2 1.0 31.8 Biocatalysis 1.6 1.5 3.7 17.0a 0.0 0.1 0.0 6.9b aSupport for basic enzymology. bExcluding NIH support for enzymology. SOURCE: Data provided by staff officers of the agencies and organizations.
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Catalysis Looks to the Future funding of local universities as a means of encouraging strong partnerships. In addition, for young investigators, the Presidential Young Investigators program also offers the possibility of matching funds from NSF, resulting in a potential 3:1 leveraging. It should be noted, however, that at present, the total level of industrial support for academic research is very low (3%) compared to that provided by federal agencies. NATIONAL LABORATORIES The Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories represent a major resource for conducting research and development. These laboratories receive $6 billion per year from DOE and employ more than 5% of the nation's research workers. Although in the past a major fraction of the programs conducted at the national laboratories have been defense related, an increasing proportion is now devoted to energy production, environmental protection, health, and the improvement of economic competitiveness. Research on catalysis or closely related subjects is carried out at each of the eight national laboratories. The objectives of this work encompass the development of novel instrumentation for in situ and ex situ characterization of catalysts, studies of fundamental processes occurring on catalyst surfaces, and the elucidation of catalyst-function relationships. Examples of new approaches developed by researchers at national laboratories include special high-pressure and low-pressure chambers for the characterization of practical catalysts by using surface-analytical techniques, novel optical methods exhibiting high surface specificity (e.g., second harmonic generation, sum frequency generation), and novel methods for in situ characterization of catalysts by infrared, Raman, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopies. Support by DOE through national and other laboratories has also been responsible for the design, construction, and operation of major user facilities such as the synchrotron light sources at Stanford University, Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; the pulsed neutron source at Argonne National Laboratory; and the National Electron Microscopy Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Use of these facilities is available to researchers from academe and industry, as well as those working at the national laboratories themselves. At present, DOE provides about $14 million annually to support catalysis research at the national laboratories. This constitutes approximately 50% of the total DOE support for catalysis research. It should be noted that at the Ames National Laboratory and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which have close ties to Iowa State University and to the University of California at Berkeley, respectively, most of the research on catalysis is carried out by graduate students working under the direction of a faculty member.
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Catalysis Looks to the Future Because of the unique capabilities available at the national laboratories, several companies have found it attractive to sponsor research at these facilities and to send their employees to national laboratories for training in novel or highly specialized techniques. These relationships have contributed to an increasing level of technology transfer from the national laboratories to industry. Technology transfer has also occurred through the employment of students and postdoctoral fellows who received their professional training while working at a national laboratory. Although issues of patents and patent rights have been an impediment to industrial support of research at national laboratories in the past, recent years have witnessed the development of more flexible contractual agreements. Such agreements have been successful in protecting proprietary information provided by the company and in offering opportunities for the company to seek patents in its own name, based on the research it supported.
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