Why Are Catalysts Important?

Chances are, you’ve heard of catalysts before. But do you actually know what they are and what they are used for?

These substances are used to speed up chemical reactions. For example, Nickel is used in the hydrogenation of palm oil into margarine, a catalyst breaks down the pulp of paper to make it smooth, and other catalysts are used during manufacturing to reduce the production of harmful by-products, toxins, and chemicals.

The benefits of using a catalyst for numerous chemical reactions are several. Not only can you speed up a reaction, but you can reduce harmful by-products, create new products and substances, and gain greater control over the outcome of the finished product.

So, with this in mind, the remainder of this article will discuss why catalysts are important, how they work in reference to chemical reactions and living organisms, and more.

How does a catalyst work?

So, know that you know what a catalyst is and that they are used during many chemical reactions – how do they actually work?

During a chemical reaction, molecules break chemical bonds between atoms. New bonds are also formed with different atoms. For any chemical reaction to occur, a certain activation energy is needed.

The higher the required energy, the longer it will take for a reaction to complete from start to finish.

But when you introduce a catalyst, you can speed up the reaction, breaking and rebuilding atoms and structures by lowering the required activation energy.

This is the key to understanding catalysis. 

In simple terms, catalysts help molecules break chemical bonds between atoms and form new bonds with different atoms much quicker than without the use of a catalyst.

Why are catalysts important in chemical reactions?

When a chemical reaction takes place, the bonds between the atoms are broken, rearranged, and rebuilt to form new molecules.

As previously mentioned, when you introduce a catalyst to a chemical reaction, the activation energy is lowered. This makes it easier for the atoms to break down and form new chemical bonds to produce new substances, elements, and products. 

But why are they important in chemical reactions, specifically?

Aside from speeding a chemical reaction up, they are more energy-efficient and can also reduce unwanted byproducts through a process called selectivity. This allows you to produce new materials and products with fewer negative side-effects for entirely new uses.

Mainly, unwanted side-effects of traditional chemical reactions are known to be harmful to the environment, whether harmful toxins or increased energy expenditure. 

The use of catalysts in chemistry has transformed the way in which we produce many chemicals and other products. For example, we can now create environmentally friendly fuel sources, fertilizers, and even biodegradable plastics.

This means we can not only create better products, but look after the environment and reduce the harmful by-products which we were previously exposed to. It’s a win, win. 

Why are catalysts important for living organisms?

Did you know that the human body also runs on catalysts? These are proteins, known as enzymes, responsible for helping you move, digest your food, and produce energy. To say that catalysts are fundamental would be an understatement.

Using catalysts for many reactions can help make things greener – they’re also better for living organisms.

For example, using catalysts can help produce fewer toxic by-products, including pesticides, fuel, and excessive energy expenditure, which is not good for the environment. Just think of the polar bears.

So, the reasons for using a catalyst are typically two-fold: you decrease the time it takes for the chemical reaction to take place, and you reduce the harmful and potentially toxic by-products produced by the reaction.

Related: What are the best ways to reduce global warming?

To conclude 

Although you’ve likely never thought about catalysts since your science lessons back in the day, they are an integral part of life.

That’s right – they are not only used within the body for many chemical reactions, but they are also used daily for numerous chemical reactions, reducing toxic by-products, speeding up manufacturing, and producing brand new products.

So, have a think about how catalysts affect your everyday life, from the cars you drive, to the medicine you consume, and even the paper you write on.

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