Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Catalysis

This research area focuses on the development of new catalysis concepts and catalytic processes, preparation of new or improved catalysts and studies to understand catalytic mechanisms.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This research area focuses on the development of new catalysis concepts and catalytic processes (for example, 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 area includes all types of catalysis:

  • heterogeneous
  • homogeneous
  • organocatalysis
  • biocatalysis.

The field links strongly to the research areas of:

The strategic focus for this area 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 and agriculture, resources and sustainability. New or improved catalysts and processes will have a major role in delivering against many of EPSRC’s ambitions.

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 (such as the UK Catalysis Hub) will be examined to understand their role in, and influence on, the wider UK research base.

Aims

We will aim for 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 – for example, 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 (such as new catalytic routes to new molecules).

We will provide 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.

We will continue targeting resources at national challenges and gathering evidence to demonstrate that increased investment in catalysis delivers transformational benefits for the UK over the longer term.

We will 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.

Why we're doing it

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

Around 85% of all chemical products are produced using a catalyst at some stage of their manufacture. Developing green and sustainable catalytic processes for the production of chemicals and fuels is one of the major goals of the 21st century.

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.

Catalysis science in the UK is recognised as a national strength, which EPSRC’s strategic investments (for example, 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 and techniques, and access to national infrastructure and central facilities for probing and understanding catalytic reactions: for example, in situ techniques and operando studies, and national high performance computing facilities for modelling and treatment of large datasets.

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 to bolster the UK’s future academic success in this field.

This research area has strong links to several others in physical sciences, for example:

It also has strong links to other parts of the EPSRC portfolio, such as:

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for Catalysis.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Who to contact

Talit Ghaffar, Manager, Physical Sciences

Email: talit.ghaffar@epsrc.ukri.org

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