Catalysts are “the matchmakers” of the molecular world.
They spur chemical reactions without changing themselves. But more importantly, catalysts speed things up, save energy, and help chemical reactions generate less waste. Some reactions would never even happen without the nudge of a catalyst. In our bodies, we rely upon biological catalysts, a.k.a. enzymes, to speed up chemical reactions in cells, helping us to digest food, grow, and more.
Catalysts are essential to many industrial and manufacturing processes, from producing fuels and fertilizers to medicines and plastics. In industrial applications, the so-called “transition metals” on the periodic table, such as palladium and nickel, are most commonly used as catalysts because they can give up electrons easily to participate in chemical reactions.
These change-agents are driving the “green chemistry” movement today. In essence, a catalyst is a way to save energy in a chemical reaction by reducing the amount of steps needed. Apply that to a large manufacturing scale, and that adds up to a lot of energy saved. As scientists continue to make advances in catalysts today, they’re developing innovations that rely on less raw materials and reduce pollution and environmental impact. Read on to learn how these catalysts are helping to improve sustainability.