Nanocatalysis: Academic Discipline and Industrial Realities
Ultimately, I would like my chemistry career to involve nanotechnology with applications toward green chemistry. However, nanotechnology, a growing field (as seen in the image above (top)*), is a field that admittedly, I’m not too knowledgeable about. Fortunately, I stumbled across what I think is a fantastic article in the Journal of Nanotechnology, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, that does a great job of introducing nanoscience, with a focus on nanocatalysis, and its applications in both academia and industry. Interestingly, the paper not only focuses on scientific publications relating to nanotechnology, but also gives an economic and industrial perspective surrounding the field. I’d highly recommend reading this article (that is free to read) if you’d like to be introduced to nanotechnology, gaining a better understanding of the roles nanotechnology play in academic research and industry.
Nanoscience is the study of materials at the nanometer (1 nanometer = 10-9 metre) length scale. Nanotechnology draws from the beneficial aspects of homogeneous (e.g. highly selective reactions, high activity, and excellent yield) and heterogeneous catalyses (e.g. improved products separation and catalyst recovery). An optimal nanocatalyst is considered to be material that exhibits “superior performance” in selectivity, activity, durability, and recoverability, all of which are influenced by catalyst size, shape, and surface composition. Generally, nanocatalysts are synthesized top-down (i.e. break bulk material down into smaller particles) or bottom-up (i.e. forming nanocatalysts by “reaction or agglomeration of suitable starting molecules”).
Some future applications of nanocatalysts, as suggested by Olveira et al., include playing a crucial role in the synthesis of widely used organic compounds, in the ‘H2 economy,’ in oil refining, in pollution control, and in biological nanosensor applications. However, the amount of interest industrial companies have in nanocatalysts is still questionable. Olveira et al. analyzed over 1,500 nanocatalysis-related patents and determined that there are six major industrial application fields (figure above (bottom)*) for nanocatalysts: combustion (13%), fuel cell/electrochemistry (13%), hydrocarbon processing/cracking (23%), templating (13%), various chemical processes (23%), and an unspecified category (15%).
Figure above (top): “Development of the number of publications per year in the field of nanotechnology since 1987 (based on a research on Thomson Reuters’ Web of Knowledge database; http://www.webofknowledge.com/ last visited 16.01.2013 the value for 2012 is likely to increase as not all 2012 papers are already published online).”
Figure above (bottom): “Application fields of patents related to nanocatalysis (based on a research on the US Patent and Trademark Office Patent Database (http://patft.uspto.gov/) applying the working definition stated in the beginning of this review).”
Sandro Olveira, Simon P. Forster, and Stefan Seeger, “Nanocatalysis: Academic Discipline and Industrial Realities,” Journal of Nanotechnology, vol. 2014, Article ID 324089, 19 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/324089