Catalysts are chemical compounds that speed the rate of a chemical reaction without themselves being altered by it. They play a critical role in mass production of chemicals and related materials and are widely used throughout industry. With the advent of nanotechnology and nanomaterials, or materials on the scale of atoms and molecules, the possibilities offered by fusing nanotechnology and catalytic chemistry are virtually limitless. Nanocatalysts are already being employed in a variety of applications including those related to conventional and renewable energy, water purification and medicine. Interest has also been focused on their use in food processing, paper and pulp recycling, and textile production. Despite their promising potential, however, commercial development faces several important challenges and the field of nanocatalysis is still in its infancy. Although much research is being done in the field of nanocatalysis, it is fragmented into those studying heterogeneous, homogeneous and bio-catalysis, leading to both cost and personnel inefficiencies that impede true progress. In order to strengthen the European position in this new and emerging field of global industrial interest, scientists initiated the ‘Integrated design of catalytic nanomaterials for a sustainable production’ (Idecat) project. Idecat facilitated the establishment of a Network of Excellence (NoE) to focus European research on synthesis and integrated design of novel nanomaterials for catalysis. Twenty-five research initiatives were established during the Idecat project and numerous catalysts were designed through lasting collaborations and multidisciplinary cooperation. Idecat successfully united several research communities until now working relatively independently on related topics. The fruitful collaboration should lay the groundwork for establishing a leading role of the European scientific community in the development of novel nanocatalysts.