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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.
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-