Catalysis

Development of new Catalysis concepts and catalytic processes (e.g. discovery of novel catalysts for reactions that have no catalytic routes available yet), preparation of novel or improved catalysts, and structural and kinetic studies to understand catalytic mechanisms. This research area includes all types of Catalysis: heterogeneous, homogeneous, organocatalysis and biocatalysis. The field links strongly to the areas of Synthetic Coordination Chemistry, Surface Science, Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Process Systems - Components and Integration, and Materials for Energy Applications.

We will maintain the size of our investment in Catalysis as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio. This reflects the continued importance and recognised UK strengths in Catalysis science. Research in this area is central to addressing current and future national challenges in energy, fuels, healthcare, chemicals manufacturing, environment, food/agriculture, resources and sustainability. New or improved catalysts and processes will have a major role in delivering against many Ambitions set out under our Productive, Healthy and Resilient Nation Outcomes.

This consolidation follows a period where we strategically grew our investment in this research area, and future support will focus on promoting excellence in the broad, diversified research community that emerged in response to this 'grow' strategy. The impact of strategic investments (e.g. the UK Catalysis Hub) will be examined to understand their role in, and influence on, the wider UK research base. Our specific aims are now as follows:

  • Greater integration of fundamental, molecular Catalysis science with a broad spectrum of chemical engineering research, explicitly to accelerate the taking of discoveries towards new chemical and process technologies. Researchers should continue to seek appropriate partnerships with end-users - e.g. small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and established chemicals, water, energy, pharma and agricultural companies - to address defined problems, but also to push translation of research into fundamental understanding of catalysts and catalytic reactions to new opportunities for commercialisation (e.g. new catalytic routes to new molecules)
  • Continuing support for access to novel instruments, central facilities and the development of research capability not available using current instruments; this is essential if the community is to advance the opportunities presented by Catalysis science and technology
  • Continued targeting of resources at national challenges and gathering of evidence to demonstrate that increased investment in Catalysis delivers transformational benefits for the UK over the longer term
  • Explore opportunities for collaboration at the interface between chemo-catalysis/biocatalysis (focused on the development of new Catalysis tools) and organic synthesis (users of these tools) in the area of clean and efficient organic chemistry based on Catalysis

We will continue to prioritise recruitment, retention and development of talent within the UK community. Interdisciplinary training will remain a strong feature of the area's portfolio, which is well-aligned to the needs of the UK's energy, sustainability, pharma, biotechnology and manufacturing sectors. Catalysis is internationally recognised as a critical enabling technology, so competition for the best researchers is also international. It will be important to maintain a strong focus on developing future leadership to safeguard the UK's long-term position among the world-leaders.

Highlights:

Catalysis stands at the nexus of many disciplines, enabling discoveries that impact on areas as diverse as health (e.g. medicine, imaging), food (e.g. agrichemicals), energy (e.g. efficiency, storage, sustainable manufacture, biomass conversion) and advanced materials (e.g. coatings, organic electronics). (Evidence source 1) It is therefore a key technology for UK industry; it is estimated that Catalysis currently contributes over £50 billion/year to the UK economy. (Evidence source 2)

Around 85% of all chemical products are produced using a catalyst at some stage of their manufacture. (Evidence source 1) Developing green and sustainable catalytic processes for the production of chemicals and fuels is one of the major goals of the 21st century. (Evidence source 3,4,5,6,7,8)

Catalysis has an important role to play in the UK's growing industrial biotechnology sector, which focuses on efficient synthesis of chemicals and pharmaceuticals from renewable resources. This will entail a multidisciplinary approach integrating biological and chemical Catalysis with high-throughput bioprocess design and scale-up. (Evidence source 9,10)

Catalysis science in the UK is recognised as a national strength, (Evidence source 11) which EPSRC's strategic investments (e.g. the Catalysis Hub) and increased support for high-quality research should have safeguarded. The UK is well-positioned to increasingly take a leadership role internationally.

The area is heavily dependent on state-of-the art equipment/techniques and access to national infrastructure and central facilities for probing and understanding catalytic reactions: for example, in situ techniques and operando studies, and High Performance Computing facilities such as ARCHER (Advanced Research Computing High End Resource) for modelling and treatment of large datasets. (Evidence source 12)

Significant EPSRC investment has supported training and careers in Catalysis; postgraduate training has been supported to reflect high industry demand for the skills. Furthermore, investments have been made to attract and retain researchers and support them in accelerating their path to research leadership and bolster the UK's future academic success in this field.

This research area has strong links to several others in physical sciences (e.g. Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Synthetic Coordination Chemistry, Surface Science, Computational and Theoretical Chemistry, and Materials for Energy Applications) and also beyond to other parts of the EPSRC portfolio (e.g. Process Systems - Components and Integration, and Manufacturing Technologies).

This research area will contribute most strongly to Productive and Resilient Nation Outcomes over a shorter timeframe. Also has potential to contribute to the Healthy Nation Outcome over a medium timeframe. Examples of relevant Ambitions include:

P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy

New catalytic technologies will enable use of by- or co-products as a resource rather than being wasted. A progressive move to bio-based feedstocks will require development of completely new catalytic processes based on a new generation of catalysts.

C3: Deliver intelligent technologies and systems

Catalysis will help deliver organic electronic materials.

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

New catalysts based on earth-abundant elements would help replace rare-earths and limit use of platinum-group metals. Novel catalytic systems that enable reuse/recycling of waste to provide feedstocks to replace virgin raw materials. Catalyst recovery, recycling and stability will be crucial to achieving the high atom economy and efficiency and low E-factors needed for sustainable production. Novel catalysts and processes for the automotive industry would reduce vehicle emissions.

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

New asymmetric catalysts for drug synthesis and new antimicrobial agents would contribute here.

  1. Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Netherlands Institute for Catalysis Research and Industrial Advisory Board of NIOK, Catalysis - Key to a Sustainable Future: Science and Technology Roadmap for Catalysis in the Netherlands (PDF), (2015).
  2. Chemistry Growth Strategy Group, Strategy for Delivering Chemistry-fuelled Growth of the UK Economy (PDF), (2013).
  3. International Energy Agency (IEA), International Council of Chemical Associations and DECHEMA, Technology Roadmap: Energy and GHG Reductions in the Chemical Industry via Catalytic Processes (PDF), (2013).
  4. House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, Waste or Resource? Stimulating a Bioeconomy (PDF), (2014).
  5. European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry (SusChem), Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (PDF), (2015).
  6. Chemical Sciences and Society Symposium (CS3), Chemistry and Water: Challenges and Solutions in a Changing World (PDF), (2015).
  7. Dial-a-Molecule Grand Challenge Network, Transforming Synthesis, Enabling Science (PDF), (2013).
  8. Directed Assembly Grand Challenge Network, Beyond the Molecule: A Roadmap to Innovation (PDF), (2012).
  9. European Cluster on Catalysis, Science and Technology, Roadmap on Catalysis for Europe (PDF), (2016).
  10. National Research Council, Industrialization of Biology, (2015).
  11. Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, Overview Report by Main Panel B and Sub-panels 7 to 15 (PDF), (2015).
  12. Research Councils UK (RCUK), Large Facilities Project: Science Requirements Document (PDF), (2014).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Maintain

We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Catalysis (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Talit Ghaffar
Job title: Manager
Department: Physical Sciences
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444424