What Does A Catalyst Do?

When you use laundry detergent to get rid of a stain on a shirt, you are watching a catalyst in action during a chemical reaction. Detergents have enzymes, which are catalysts that break up dirt and other stains on clothing.

A catalyst is a substance that speeds up the rate of a chemical reaction. It provides an alternative pathway for the reaction to happen by lowering the activation energy of the reaction or by changing how the reaction happens. They can lower the energy of the transition state, so the overall activation energy needed for the reaction decreases, or they can alter the mechanisms of a reaction and thus change the transition state. Catalyst is not consumed during the reaction.

With a helping hand from a catalyst, molecules that might take years to interact can now do so in seconds. Factories rely on catalysts to make everything from plastic to drugs. Catalysts help process petroleum and coal into liquid fuels. Natural catalysts in the body known as enzymes play important roles in digestion and more.

Types of Catalysts

Catalysts in the same phase as chemical reactants are called homogeneous catalysts. For example, if the reactants are gases, then the catalyst is also a gas.

Did you know you can use catalysts to produce Hydrogen? Which in turn can be used to obtain energy? Click here to find out how!

Catalysts in a different phase than the reactants are called heterogeneous catalyst. For example, the reactants may be solid, but the catalyst is a liquid.

Catalysts are highly selective i.e., the catalyst doesn’t just speed up all reactions, but only a particular reaction. This is the key to many chemical transformations. When you only want to perform a particular chemical change, you look for a catalyst that will speed up that specific reaction but not others.

Enzymes are biological catalysts. They are proteins that fold into particular conformations such that they can help speed up particular biochemical reactions in the body. For biochemical reactions, the reactant is typically called the substrate.

The substrate is converted into the product. For example, Carbonic anhydrase is an enzyme that catalyzes the reversible reaction of carbon dioxide and water to form carbonic acid.  

We hope you have understood how catalysts work and its significance.


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