The panel has also shown that through the use of modern analytical and theoretical techniques, scientific investigation of catalysis has led to an unprecedented understanding of catalysts and catalytic processes at the molecular level. These investigations have opened the door to a detailed understanding of structure-function relationships and of the effects of reaction conditions on the structure and composition of catalysts. The advent of supercomputers and improved theoretical methods is rapidly enabling the simulation of many aspects of catalysis. Taken together, these advances have contributed to making catalysis less an art and more a science, and have assisted and accelerated the process of developing new catalysts for industrial applications.
The strong position in catalytic science and technology held by the United States is the result of past investments made by both industry and the government. Recent years have seen a decrease in the rate of investment by industry—particularly in ongoing, long-range, fundamental and exploratory research programs—as a consequence of competitive pressures, corporate mergers, and placement of resources in business ventures outside the central activities of the industry. Concurrently, government has maintained a relatively constant dollar investment in catalysis, but inflation and rising overhead costs have eroded the purchasing value of these funds. The net result is that the United States has lost momentum just at the moment that it must face a significant number of challenges and opportunities. To take advantage of these opportunities, careful attention must be given to effective use of the nation's resources, so that the United States can maintain its leadership role.
The balance of this chapter presents specific recommendations for action by industry, academe, the national laboratories, and the federal government.
As detailed in Chapter 2, substantial opportunities exist for developing new processes and products, pending the development of as yet unavailable catalytic technologies. It is important to note that these new, economically favorable catalytic processes, once developed, will be adopted globally, providing long-range economic benefits to the originating company and country. Given these opportunities, combined with the challenges of utilizing new raw materials (e.g., methane and coal) and protecting the environment, industry should strive to readjust the balance internally or externally between long-and short-range research. Internally, this would be facilitated by long-range business and technology planning, technology forecasting and trend analysis, a more stable commitment to strategic projects, joint development and joint venture programs with other companies for risk sharing, and high-quality project selection and evaluation methodologies.