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Scientific Opportunities: Materials & Chemical Sciences

Overview | Soft Matter and Biomaterials | Advanced Materials Growth | Catalysis and Energy Science

Catalysis and Energy Science

Catalysis changes the rates at which chemical bonds are formed and broken, and controls the yields of chemical reactions to increase the amounts of desirable products and reduce the amounts of undesirable ones. As a result, catalysis is at the heart of the petroleum, chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries. Today, approximately one third of the U.S. gross national product in materials involves a catalytic process somewhere in the production chain. The proportion of processes using catalysts in the chemical industry is 80% and increasing.

Transmission electron microscope images of ropes of single wall nanotubes (left), which allow hydrogen (in red on the left and dark areas on the right) to be absorbed into the interstitial spaces.

Catalysis also plays a crucial role in pollution control and alternative energy technologies. Stabilizing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is extremely important. In the 20th century, power consumption increased 16-fold. The concentration of atmospheric CO2 increased from 275 to 370 parts per million (ppm) and, at the current rate of increase, will reach approximately 550 ppm in this century. Climate models and data indicate that this could produce global warming comparable in magnitude but opposite in sign to that of the last Ice Age. Moreover, 85 % of power consumption today is based on fossil fuels. To remedy this, yet permit both climate stabilization and sustained economic development, the combined use of carbon-sequestered fossil fuels, solar and wind power, biomass, and nuclear fusion and fission, paired with efficiency improvements, hydrogen energy, and superconducting electricity grids, is necessary. To create the technology required for this to occur, a broad range of research and development in catalysis and energy science is necessary.

Synchrotron radiation facilities provide unique and powerful tools for characterizing the temporal and spatial evolution of working catalysts. The properties of catalysts can be studied using a wide range of x-ray techniques, such as x-ray powder and/or single-crystal diffraction, small-angle x-ray scattering, and many x-ray spectroscopy methods. The high brightness and flux of NSLS-II light is for these techniques to be applied with the high spatial, energy, and time resolution necessary to fully characterize these complex catalytic systems.


Last Modified: April 2, 2013
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