For new catalysts, you need new materials. A large part of the work is looking for new materials which will function as interesting or active catalysts. This includes under-appreciated known compounds, or materials with new structures and compositions.
Emphasis will be on ceramics, hydrides/nitrides, intermetallics, mixed-anion systems, and occassionally hybrid materials.
New materials can lead to new catalytic mechanisms. To probe these, we will focus on mechanistic studies, such as kinetics, heats of adsorption, isotope exchange, spectroscopy, and structural analysis during/after the reaction.
Currently, the major reactions we focus on are NH3 synthesis, CO2 hydrogenation, and CH4 decomposition.
Sometimes, just making a new material isn't enough to get a good catalyst, especially if it's just a big lump. Various wet chemistry/gas phase techniques are necessary to increase the surface area, or to passivate the surface in order to control stability and reactivity. For many non-oxide materials, such techniques are still yet to be developed.