(193d) Advances in Catalysis. A Historical Perspective



Catalysis was practiced long before it was recognized. Berzelius is credited with the "discovery" of catalysis in the 1834-1836 period as well as introducing the controversial concept of "catalytic force." Mitscherlich had defined "contact action" at least two years before Berzelius introduced catalysis and had used as examples of the action essentially the same examples as Berzelius. Faraday, on the other hand, considered catalysis to fit into the general concepts of chemistry. Liebig introduced his "vibrational theory" in the 1840s and this view lasted until Ostwald, in the late 1880s, introduced his definition of catalysis that led to him recieving the 1909 Nobel Prize. Industrial catalysis began with the high pressure hydrogenation of nitrogen, and led to the Nobel Prize for both Haber and Bosch. Langmuir emphasized chemical adsorption, a view that dominated for many years, leading to the 1932 Nobel Prize. Physical adsorption was emphasized in the 1938 BET paper that is highly cited even today; this work was nominated for the Nobel Prize but never received the award. Beginning about 1930, petroleum refining was a driving force for catalytic advances, starting with Houdry's regenerative catalytic cracking proces, the introduction of the silica-alumina and then the crystalline zeolite catalysts as well as the introduction of the bi-functional naphtha reforming catalyst to produce high octane gasoline. The production of polymers using catalysis advanced rapidly, receiving recognition with the Nobel Prize awarded to Ziegler and Natta. The introduction and widespread use of surface science instrumentation led to major advances in the understanding of catalysis, recognized by the 2007 Nobel Prize being awarded to Ertl.