Catalyst - Selectivity and Activity

What is a Catalyst?

Catalysis is the process of increasing the speed of chemical reactions by adding substances called catalysts. The catalyst is not consumed during the reaction and remains unchanged after the reaction. Usually only a very small amount of catalyst is required.

Table of Contents

General Introduction

Selectivity of catalyst and its activity is an important concept. Catalytic surface is generally inactive in nature. When a reactant is adsorbed on the catalyst surface, it makes the catalyst active. This incites the further process of reaction. Catalysts are highly specific in nature, that is, what may be a catalyst for one can be an inhibitor for another. Some catalysts with the same set of reactants give different products in comparison to other catalysts.

Selectivity of Catalyst

Some basic properties of catalyst are explained below:

Activity of Catalyst

Catalyst has an ability to increase the rate of reaction. This ability of catalyst is known as the activity of catalyst. It depends upon adsorption of reactants on the surface of catalyst. Chemisorption is the main factor governing the activity of catalysts. The bond formed during adsorption between the catalytic surface and the reactants must not be too strong or too weak.

It must be strong enough to make the catalyst active whereas, not so strong that the reactant molecules get immobilized on the catalytic surface leaving no further space for the new reactants to get adsorbed. Generally for the hydrogenation reaction, from Group 5 to Group 11 metals, the catalytic activity increases. The catalytic activity is found to be highest for group 7-9 elements of the periodic table.

\(\begin{array}{l} 2H_2(g)~+~O_2(g)~~~\underrightarrow{Pt}~~~2H_2O(l)\end{array} \)

Selectivity of Catalyst

Catalysts are highly specific compounds. They have an ability to direct the reaction to yield a particular product. The reaction with same reactants but different catalyst may yield different products. This is termed as the selectivity of catalyst. Catalysts are highly selective in nature. They can accelerate a particular reaction while inhibit another reaction. Hence, we can say a particular catalyst can catalyse one particular reaction only. It may fail to catalyse another reaction of the same type. For example: reaction of hydrogen and carbon monoxide yields methane when nickel is used as catalyst, methanol when a mixture of zinc oxide and chromium oxide is used as catalyst and methanal when only copper is used as catalyst.

\(\begin{array}{l}CO(g)~+~3H_2(g)~~~\underrightarrow{Ni}~~~CH_4(g)~+~H_2O(g)\end{array} \)

\(\begin{array}{l}CO(g)~+~2H_2(g)~~~\underrightarrow{Cu/ZnO-Cr_2O_3}~~~CH_3OH(g)\end{array} \)

\(\begin{array}{l}CO(g)~+~H_2(g)~~~\underrightarrow{Cu}~~~HCHO(g)\end{array} \)

Types of catalysts

A catalyst is a chemical compound which makes the reaction occur more quickly by reducing the reaction’s activation energy barrier. During the reaction it isn’t eaten.

  • Homogeneous catalyst – Homogeneous catalysts are usually soluble metal salts or compounds that are dissolved in an effective organic solvent that is used as the medium for reaction. (here catalyst and the reactants are on the same phase)
  • Heterogeneous catalyst – A heterogeneous catalyst is a functional material which under conditions of reaction continually creates active sites with its reactants. (here catalyst and reactants are on different phase)

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs


What does catalytic activity mean?

The rise in chemical reaction rate caused by the presence of a catalyst. A catalyst number, expressed as an increase of its reaction rate.


How do you measure catalytic activity?

Typically, by calculating the slope of the original linear portion of nanozyme reaction curves one calculates the catalytic activities of nanozymes. A nanozyme’s catalytic activity is in linear proportion to its mass.


What is the purpose of a catalyst?

A catalyst is a product that may be added to a mixture, without being absorbed in the process, to increase the reaction rate. Usually, catalysts speed up a reaction by reducing the activation energy by modifying the structure for the reaction.


What is a catalyst in a chemical reaction?

In chemistry, catalyst is any product that increases the rate of a reaction without being absorbed by itself. Naturally occurring enzymes are catalysts responsible for certain important biochemical reactions.


What do you mean by activity and selectivity of catalyst explain with suitable example?

A catalyst ‘s activity is its ability to increase a given reaction rate. Chemisorption is the principal factor in determining a catalyst ‘s activity. The catalyst ‘s ability to steer a reaction to produce a single product is called the catalyst’s selectivity.

Test your knowledge on activity selectivity of catalyst!


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