Catalysts industry booms as environmental regulations and advanced technologies drive demand

05/03/04

Technical Insights Advanced Catalysts Analysis



Palo Alto, Calif. -- May 3, 2004 -- Evolving technologies that enable more environment-friendly processes, higher selectivity, and cost efficiencies are helping to further expand the $12.09 billion global market for catalysts. Emission regulations are the biggest driver for most application sectors and the catalysts for environmental and chemical applications are expected to have the highest market growth.

Countries throughout the world are introducing regulations to reduce sulfur content in gasoline and diesel. In the United States, the proposed Clear Skies legislation aims to cut power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and mercury by 70 percent in the next 15 years.

NOx emission is the primary cause of acid rains. As a result, catalysts used in selective catalytic reduction technology that control these emissions are expected to experience greater demand in power, petrochemical, steel plants, metal production, paper and pulp, acid manufacturing plants, and glass industries.

"Stringent environmental legislations, while being a bane for industries such as refineries, can be a boon for catalyst manufacturers provided they introduce efficient catalysts at the right time," states Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Anil Naidu. "For instance, 'drop-in' catalysts that can be used with the existing refinery setup could be a preferred industry choice."

Intensive R&D activities are being undertaken to keep pace with rapidly expanding applications and customer demands. Wider acceptance by the semiconductor and automotive industries is spurring catalyst development in the global fuel cells market. Moreover, governments in several countries are encouraging companies to exploit likely opportunities for commercialization of these technologies.

The U.K. Government recently set out a long-term strategy for sizeable investments toward a truly sustainable energy policy. The establishment of 'Fuel Cells UK,' for better coordination with prior fuel cell activities of the government is a significant development in this aspect.

In the chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector, the increasing use of chemical asymmetric catalysis for synthesizing enantiomers from chiral compounds is increasing investment in chiral catalysts. Some catalysts likely to benefit from this move are those used for hydrogenation, Sharpless and Jacobsen epoxidation, and asymmetric hydroformylation.

"Pharmaceutical drugs that were earlier marketed in racemic or mixed form are now being separated and marketed as single-enantiomer versions since they offer a cost-effective way to extend patent lifetimes, nurture development pipelines, and increase the potency of drugs," notes Naidu.

Additionally, due to the growing complexity of potential drugs and demand for optical purity, the industry is likely to increasingly adopt biocatalysts or enzymes.

Nanoparticles of clay and other materials are expected to play a significant role as catalysts in the polymerization industry. Currently, Zeigler-Natta catalysts used to create unbranched polyolefin polymer chains dominate the industry but on-going research is focusing on highly active metallocenes and single site polyolefins. Nanoparticles of certain clays such as vermiculite and montmorillonite are capable of eliminating the need for catalyst activators, significantly reducing the cost of the polymer manufacturing process.

"Newer single-site catalysts are gaining acceptance due to their ability to control molecular architecture while delivering polymers with higher melting points," remarks Technical Insights Research Analyst Kasturi Nadkarny. "However, Zeigler-Natta catalysts are expected to sustain their market share, due to their proven reliability at low costs."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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