"A Message from the MML Director" appears in each edition of Material Matters, the quarterly magazine of NIST's Material Measurement Lab. This letter from MML Director Laurie Locascio is in the Summer 2016 issue of the magazine. (Click to subscribe.)
The chemical industry, which accounts for more than 25% of the U.S. gross domestic product, relies heavily upon catalysts, substances that speed the rate of chemical reactions. Without catalysts, most chemical reactions happen so slowly or at such high temperatures and pressures that the resulting products would not be profitable. Ninety percent of all chemical products are made with catalysts.
Small improvements in the efficiency of a catalyst can result in significant savings in the use of energy, feedstock material, and water, and so yield a competitive advantage and higher profits, and potentially lead to lower prices for consumers and more jobs. In addition to seeking higher rates of efficiency, the chemical industry is looking for new catalysts that minimize the environmental impact of industrial processes and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to meet regulations in U.S. and global markets.
MML's experts in the chemical sciences and engineering have been talking with industry members about these issues and will soon do what NIST does best: convene stakeholders to understand their measurement needs so we can meet them with solutions that will benefit the entire industry. That workshop is scheduled to take place in fall 2016. We already know that the chemical industry needs better data on the mechanisms of reactions as they happen in real working conditions so they can build accurate, reliable, and fast models of new catalysts before undertaking large-scale, costly trials on their production floors. This goal will require an industry-wide effort to attain and share fundamental knowledge of complex reactions, which MML has the knowledge and experience to help lead.
Better simulations of potential catalysts will also need catalyst reference materials, physical artifacts that have been intensively characterized under controlled conditions with documented methods and validated data, more realms in which MML staff members, who oversee the NIST-wide Standard Reference Material program, are experts. These reference materials will allow researchers in the chemical industry to validate their own measurements and help ensure the reliability of their data.
The transfer of technical expertise from a lab like MML to industry is, ideally, an ongoing process that doesn't end with the sale of a reference material. To keep the knowledge exchange going, we are forming an alliance with several universities in the region to provide measurement services and data to the chemical industry. University students will have the opportunity to train at NIST while working on industry's top problems, and mingle with industry chemical engineers working in NIST labs to perfect new measurement science, a continual exchange of ideas that results in more American innovation.
Laurie Locascio, Ph.D.
Director, Material Measurement Laboratory