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Discover the Challenges Driving the Future of Catalysis

This year’s National Chemistry Week celebration focuses on themes related to catalysis, the process of accelerating chemical reactions. Catalysis is all about change, so it’s no surprise that the editors of ACS Catalysisoften think about the future of chemistry and their role in accelerating discoveries in the field.

In honor of National Chemistry Week, the editors of the journal were asked, “If chemists are catalysts for positive change in communities across the world, which scientific challenges in your field will be interesting for chemists to tackle in the next 10-20 years?” Read on to discover their answers.

Cathleen Crudden, Editor-in-Chief

In catalysis, issues around the incorporation of machine learning/robotics into catalyst and reaction optimization will remain in the next 10 years, as well as learning how to share data/enable reproducibility from lab to lab more effectively. Specific reactions that likely remain at the forefront are those related to energy and sustainability–developing systems that do not require precious metals, catalysis for energy applications, and catalytic approaches to deal with waste accumulation. Finally, insights into materials chemistry that inform heterogeneous catalysis will likely be of critical importance in the years to come.

Paolo Fornasiero, Executive Editors

Over a century ago, the Haber-Bosch process for ammonia and its fertilizers-based production opened the possibility of drastically increasing agriculture production. Today, catalysis is still looking for ways to change the global energy scenario and human quality of life. Electrocatalysis and/or photocatalysis will make possible the direct conversion of N2 to ammonia, water into hydrogen and oxygen, CO2 to solar fuels.

Brent Gunnoe, Executive Editor

Advancements related to the scaled conversion of solar energy to chemical fuels continue to stand among the most important goals in the field of catalysis and chemistry in general, especially with a focus on the electrocatalytic conversion of small molecules such as water oxidation, proton reduction, carbon dioxide reduction and related transformations. New successes to control active site structure to optimize activity and stability in heterogeneous materials are critical. Also, in this vein, developments in electrochemistry for synthetic organic chemistry have been emerging at a rapid rate. I am intrigued by the possibility of new electrocatalytic processes for hydrocarbon functionalization that might allow scaled electrocatalysis for petrochemical production. Large-scale electrocatalytic hydrocarbon functionalization could enable the use of green electricity (e.g., electricity from sunlight via photovoltaics) and result in substantial increases in energy efficiency. Still, this vision will require major advancements in mechanistic understanding as well as reactor engineering. With a long-standing interest in thermal C-H functionalization, exploring how traditional organometallic mechanisms for thermal C-H functionalization might, or might not, be leveraged for electrocatalytic hydrocarbon functionalization is quite interesting.

Pimchai Chaiyen, Associate Editor

As environmental awareness grows, consumers, governments, and regulators will demand that the chemical production process become clean and green. The world will no longer tolerate industries and processes which generate toxic waste and high CO2emissions. Enzymes are useful biocatalysts that, in conjunction with other technologies, can offer clean and green solutions. However, when it comes to real applications, not all enzymatic reactions are robust and scalable. The ability to engineer enzymes at will to serve industrial needs should contribute positively to the development of clean and green technology.

Buonsanti Raffaella, Associate Editor

Catalysis plays an essential role in building a sustainable society based on renewable energies and independent from fossil fuels. The development of new chemical transformations relies on discovering materials that can catalyze them efficiently and selectively. Materials synthesis is still mostly driven by empirical knowledge. To catalyze changes in the future, chemists should tackle this challenge and develop retrosynthesis analysis to target materials with the desired properties, something which is currently possible only for organic molecules.

Learn more about the future of the field in ACS Catalysis.

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