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Transition Metal Catalysts

Transition Metal Catalysts

One of the most important applications of transition metals is as industrial catalysts. As you recall from the tutorial on kinetics, a catalyst increases the rate of reaction by lowering the activation energy and is regenerated in the catalytic cycle. Over 90% of all manufactured products are made with the aid of one or more catalysts.

The ability to bind ligands and change oxidation states makes transition metal catalysts well suited for catalytic applications. Vanadium oxide is used to produce 230,000,000 tons of sulfuric acid worldwide each year, which in turn is used to make everything from fertilizers to cans for food. Plastics are made with the aid of transition metal catalysts, along with detergents, fertilizers, paints, and more (see the figure below).

Very complicated pharmaceuticals are manufactured with catalysts that are selective, reacting with one specific bond out of a large number of possibilities. Catalysts allow processes to be more economical and more environmentally friendly. Developing new catalysts and better understanding of existing systems are important areas of current research.

This figure includes three photographs. In a, a photo shows store shelving filled with a variety of brands of laundry detergent. In b, a photo shows a can of yellow paint being stirred. In c, a bag of fertilizer is shown.

(a) Detergents, (b) paints, and (c) fertilizers are all made using transition metal catalysts. (credit a: modification of work by “Mr. Brian”/Flickr; credit b: modification of work by Ewen Roberts; credit c: modification of work by “osseous”/Flickr)

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