Catalysis: the science behind sustainable energy
About 60 percent of the things we wear or use are produced by processes that depend on catalysis. Catalysts are substances that modify chemical reaction rates and remain unchanged afterward.
Catalyst technologies affect nearly all areas of the chemical and petroleum industries with an economic impact estimated at more than $10 trillion per year worldwide. Now more than ever, innovative and improved catalyst technologies are in demand for new energy production processes to ease the United States' dependence on imported resources.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a world leader in catalysis research with its Institute for Interfacial Catalysis. Established in 2005, the IIC is a centerpiece in the United States for work involving the control of chemical transformations for a secure energy future.
"So many new things are possible in the design and modeling of catalytic chemistry because of advances in nanotechnology and high-performance supercomputing, and PNNL has expertise in both of these areas," said Mike White, who manages the IIC in addition to continuing his position as Robert A. Welch Chair in Materials Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin.
PNNL's catalysis research spans a broad area, including biomass conversion, environmental catalysis, and solid oxide fuel cells. In biomass, for example, PNNL scientists are developing catalyst materials and processes for producing value-added chemicals and fuels from biobased feedstocks. These types of advances result in new opportunities for grower associations, food processors, and chemical companies as well as federal agencies.
Solid oxide fuel cells are considered one of the most efficient and cleanest technologies for energy conversion, and catalysis plays a critical role in their development. At PNNL, researchers are conducting detailed studies of oxygen reduction kinetics in fuel cells. Results from these studies are being used to develop new catalytic materials for fuel cells.
No matter what the energy source is—oil, natural gas, coal, biomass, solar or nuclear—a clean, sustainable energy future will involve catalysis. PNNL expects to be on the forefront, developing catalysis processes and technologies to improve energy conversion efficiency, storage, and use options as well as reduce environmental impacts.