Importance of Surface Science and Fundamental Studies in Heterogeneous Catalysis Madan M. Bhasin

Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center South Charleston, West Virginia 25303  



At Union Carbide Corporation and The Dow Chemical Company, surface science and fundamental studies have played extremely important roles in the discovery, development, and diagnosis of several valuable commercial and developmental catalyst systems. Prior to the late '60s, it was very common among scientists and engineers to refer to catalysis, particularly heterogeneous catalysis, as either an "art" or "magic". Primary reasons behind these labels were our inability to understand the performance of "poor" and "good" catalysts nominally having the same bulk composition. With the development of surface science in the early 70s, heterogeneous catalysis field was relatively easy picking for diagnosis and improved understanding of many of these poorly understood catalyst systems. In fact, there were many "sad" stories across the chemical industry of catalysts that prematurely deactivated or essentially died and there was no known cause or relationship of performance with observable physical-chemical properties. In all such instances, the bulk characterization techniques failed to identify or uncover the cause or causes of such activity decline. However, through the use of surface science and fundamental characterizations, three such "sad stories" turned into "success stories" at Union Carbide. In addition, it will also be shown that the early use of surface science and fundamental studies led to the discovery, development and enhanced understanding of several catalyst systems. Many of the early surface science techniques along with the newly developed techniques continue to and will play a very important role in the future development of next generation catalysts and catalytic processes for the industrial use and environmental protection.