Expert Report

Catalysis for Energy: Fundamental Science and Long-Term Impacts of the U.S. Department of Energy Basic Energy Sciences Catalysis Science Program (2009)

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Catalysis, the process by which a substance (a catalyst) increases the rate of a chemical reaction, is essential to the ability to control chemical reactions, including those involved in energy transformations. Catalysis is therefore integral to current and future energy solutions, for example, developing environmentally benign energy sources such as biomass and solar energy, and developing efficient energy systems such as fuel cells. This report presents an in-depth analysis of the investment in catalysis basic research by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Sciences Catalysis Science Program. On the basis of the information that was evaluated, the report concludes that the program has invested well in catalysis basic research. The program's success can be attributed to key management decisions over the past eight years that have led to a current funding distribution that advances catalysis science in general and keeps the development of energy-related technologies as a long-term goal. The program has maintained support for many well-established and world-renowned leaders in catalysis and, at the same time, has brought in many new researchers. The DOE Catalysis Science Initiative has been a particularly effective mechanism for bringing to the program new funds, new researchers, and innovative research topics -- especially in heterogeneous catalysis. However, there are variations in the quality and relevance of the research in the program's portfolio, which are discussed in detail in the report.

Key Messages

  • Biorelated grants. Biological processes provide understanding of important catalytic reactions such as C-H functionalization.
  • C-H Activation and Functionalization. The ultimate goal of research in C-H activation catalysis is to find catalysts that will incorporate C-H activation into hydrocarbon-conversion technology.
  • Catalysis Science Initiative (CSI) grants were first awarded in 2003 and were given to multi-investigator, multidisciplinary teams mainly involved in heterogeneous catalysis research. Few grants have been awarded for research in homogeneous catalysis or biocatalysis
  • Homogeneous Catalysis in Organic Synthesis grants. The selectivity of these catalysts presents the potential to conserve resources, increase energy efficiency, and reduce waste
  • Hydrogen Fuel Initiative (HFI) grants focus on hydrogen production, storage, and use and mainly involve electrocatalysis.
  • Nanoscience grants focus on emergent catalytic properties at the nanometer scale.
  • Single-Site Polymerization grants have made significant contributions to the understanding of fundamental catalysis.
  • Surface Science grants focus on achieving a better understanding of heterogeneous catalytic surfaces.
  • Theory grants focus on theory, modeling, and simulation. The catalysis theory portfolio is considered to be of a high international standard.
  • Traditional Heterogeneous Catalysis grants. The portfolio is highly important to research on the energy efficiency of current chemical transformation processes and on alternative energy solutions.