Catalysis is essential to life as well as to our society, as almost all chemical transformations require the addition of a catalyst.[1, 2] Catalysis has developed itself into a major scientific discipline, honored by several Noble Prizes in Chemistry, including, in the last decade, Sharpless, Noyori, and Knowles (2001); Chauvin, Grubbs, and Schrock (2005); Ertl (2007); and Heck, Negishi, and Suzuki (2010).
Indeed, catalysts are used in the production of the foods that we eat, the energy necessary to heat our homes, the enzymatic transformations that occur throughout our body to provide function to every organ, the purification of the air that we breathe, the production of clean transportation fuels used in our cars, and the fabrication of the materials used around our homes. In other words, catalysts are at the heart of nearly all biological as well as many chemical transformations. In terms of chemical conversion processes, catalysts are responsible for the production of over 85 % of all materials that are made and are used in over 90 % of all chemical processes worldwide.
Since the first commercial oil well, founded in 1859, mankind has built up a large and complex infrastructure to provide our current materials, chemicals and transportation fuels. Diminishing oil supplies as well as climate concerns related to carbon dioxide emissions will prompt us to prepare for a major shift away from fossil fuels. Catalysis is crucial in all these operations and will remain crucial as we search for renewable alternatives.
Read the whole editorial by Bert Weckhuysen, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, Luis Oro, Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain and Uwe Bornscheuer, Greifswald University, Germany, for free
ChemCatChem 2011, 4.
1) Handbook of Heterogeneous Catalysis, (Eds.: G. Ertl, H. Knözinger, F. Schüth, J. Weitkamp), 2nd Ed., Wiley-VCH, Weinheim 2008.
2) G. A. Somorjai, Y. Lin, Introduction to Surface Chemistry and Catalysis, 2nd Ed., Wiley, New York 2010.