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What Does Catalyst Mean?

Catalysis definition or catalysis meaning can be given as the increase in the rate of a chemical reaction because of the participation of an additional substance, which is known as a catalyst. Catalyst is not consumed in the catalyzed reaction, but it can continue to act repeatedly. Even a small amount of catalyst is usually sufficient to bring about this effect. In contrast with the catalyzed mechanisms, usually, the catalyst reacts to generate a temporary intermediate, which then regenerates the original catalyst with the help of a cyclic process.

Mechanism of Catalysis

There requires less free energy to reach the transition state in the presence of a catalyst, but there will be no change in the total free energy from reactants to products. A catalyst can participate in various chemical transformations. Also, the effect of a catalyst may vary because of the presence of other substances such as promoters (which increases the activity and affect the temperature of the reaction as well) or inhibitors (which reduces the catalytic activity).

Catalyzed reactions carry lower activation energy (the rate-limiting free energy of activation) to that of the identical uncatalyzed reaction, resulting in a higher reaction rate for the same reactant concentration, at the same temperature. As in the case of other chemical reactions, the reaction rate completely depends upon the contact frequency of the reactants in the rate-determining step.

In this slowest step, the catalyst participates usually, and the reaction rate depends upon the amount of catalyst. Although catalysts are not consumed by the self reaction, they may be deactivated, inhibited, or destroyed by using the secondary processes.

Types of Catalysts

Based on whether the catalyst exists in the same phase as the substrate, catalysts are classified into Homogeneous and Heterogeneous catalysis. Biocatalysts (also called enzymes) are often seen as a separate group.

Heterogeneous Catalysts

These types of catalysts act in a different phase compared to the reactants. Most heterogeneous catalysts are solids that act either on the substrates of liquid or gaseous reaction mixture. At the same time, diverse mechanisms for the reactions on the surface are known, based on how the adsorption occurs.

The total surface area of a solid has a major effect on the reaction rate. The smaller the size of the catalyst particle, the larger the area of surface for a given mass of particles. A heterogeneous catalyst has active sites, which are called crystal faces or atoms where the reaction actually occurs.  Most of the catalyst surface is catalytically inactive.


In the electrochemistry context, specifically in fuel cell engineering, multiple metal-containing catalysts are used to enhance the half-reaction rates that comprise the fuel cell. A common type of fuel cell, named electrocatalyst is based upon the nanoparticles of platinum that are supported on the carbon particles, which are slightly larger. But, when in contact with one of the fuel cell electrodes, this platinum increases the oxygen reduction rate either to hydroxide or to water or hydrogen peroxide.

Homogeneous Catalysts

These function in the same phase as the reactants, but the mechanistic principles that are involved in the heterogeneous catalysis are generally applicable. Typically, the homogeneous catalysts are dissolved in a substrate solvent. An example of homogeneous catalysis can be the influence of H+ on the carboxylic acids’ esterification, like the formation of methyl acetate from methanol and acetic acid.


Photocatalysis is the process where the catalyst can receive light (like visible light), be promoted to an excited state, and then undergoes an intersystem crossing with the starting material, and then, returning to the ground state without being consumed. After that, the excited state of the starting material will undergo the reactions ordinarily. It could not be directly illuminated. For example, usually, the singlet oxygen is produced by photocatalysis. Photocatalysts are also considered as the primary ingredient in the dye-sensitized solar cells.

Enzymes and Biocatalysts

The enzymes and other biocatalysts are often treated as a third category. In comparison, the same mechanistic principles apply to homogeneous, heterogeneous, and biocatalysis.


In biology, enzymes are the protein-based compounds that catalyze metabolism and other biochemical reactions as well. Though enzymes are the most commonly called biocatalysts, certain non-protein-based biomolecules classes also exhibit the catalytic properties. These include ribozymes and synthetic deoxyribosymes and as well.

Biocatalysts are recognized to be an intermediate between the heterogeneous and homogeneous catalysts; soluble enzymes are considered to be homogeneous catalysts, whereas the membrane-bound enzymes can be kept under the heterogeneous enzymes category.

The catalysis impact factor or various factors affect the activity of enzymes (and other catalysts as well). A few of these include pH, temperature, the concentration of enzyme, products, and substrate. Water is an important reagent that acts as a catalyst. It acts in multiple bond-forming and bond-breaking reactions as well.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Explain the Significance of Catalysis?

It is estimated that 90% of all the commercially produced chemical products involve catalysts at some stage in their manufacturing process. In 2005, the catalytic processes generated about $900 billion in products worldwide. Catalysis is so pervasive that the subareas are not classified readily. Some particular concentration areas are surveyed below.

Food Processing

One of the most obvious applications of catalysis is given as the hydrogenation (reaction with hydrogen gas) of fats by using the nickel catalyst in the production of margarine. Various other foodstuffs are prepared through biocatalysis.

2. Why are Catalysts More Important?

A catalyst is an important substance that adjusts the chemical reaction rate, and however, it is chemically unaltered toward the end of the reaction. Fundamentally it diminishes or expands the pace of a biological or chemical reaction; however, it does not get itself included in the reaction. 

The reactions happen inside the human body, and the cells are truly moderate; the enacted energy requirement for the reactions happens is not accessible for a reaction. Considering the example, heat, in general, gets missed out of our body; furthermore, if there is sufficient warmth for the reactions that happen, it causes harm likewise for our cell for the proteins.

3. Explain About Auto-catalysis?

Answer: When one of the reaction’s products acts itself as a catalyst for that particular reaction, that phenomenon is known as auto-catalysis.

For example, hydrolysis of an ester.

4. Explain if Catalysts Take Part in the Reaction or Not?

Answer: Yes, catalysts will take part in a reaction. They react with a reactant to produce an intermediate that reacts faster to that of the original reactants.