We have far more oil, coal and gas than we can safely burn. Tackling global warming implies that we must leave most of our fossil reserves in the ground. This will require a completely different way of running our economy, shifting away from liquid fuels for mobility and deriving our chemicals and materials as much as possible from renewable resources. I will discuss the challenges and opportunities that arise from these changes and the enabling role that catalysis can play in the energy transition using examples of our own research. A view on the “catalysis by design” approach will be presented, which starts from molecular level understanding of reaction mechanism in relation to the atomic scale structure of catalytic surfaces. This approach is applied to the conversion of small molecules such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane as well as valorization of more complex biogenic resources such as lignin. A specific topic of importance for accelerated development of novel chemical processes relates to the integration of reactions, catalyst materials, reactors, and production processes at all length scales of importance.