A decade ago, the U.S. chemical industry was in decline. Of the more than 40 chemical manufacturing plants being built worldwide in the mid-2000s with more than $1 billion in capitalization, none were under construction in the United States. Today, as a result of abundant domestic supplies of affordable natural gas and natural gas liquids resulting from the dramatic rise in shale gas production, the U.S. chemical industry has gone from the worldâ€™s highest-cost producer in 2005 to among the lowest-cost producers today.
The low cost and increased supply of natural gas and natural gas liquids provides an opportunity to discover and develop new catalysts and processes to enable the direct conversion of natural gas and natural gas liquids into value-added chemicals with a lower carbon footprint. The economic implications of developing advanced technologies to utilize and process natural gas and natural gas liquids for chemical production could be significant, as commodity, intermediate, and fine chemicals represent a higher-economic-value use of shale gas compared with its use as a fuel.
To better understand the opportunities for catalysis research in an era of shifting feedstocks for chemical production and to identify the gaps in the current research portfolio, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conducted an interactive, multidisciplinary workshop in March 2016. The goal of this workshop was to identify advances in catalysis that can enable the United States to fully realize the potential of the shale gas revolution for the U.S. chemical industry and, as a result, to help target the efforts of U.S. researchers and funding agencies on those areas of science and technology development that are most critical to achieving these advances. This publication summarizes the presentations and discussions from the workshop.