That is a good question. I think to select a catalyst for a specific reaction need a lot of empirial and theoretical work. You need to take into consideration of the mechanism of the chemical reaction, and the structure and the nature of the catalysts. Take the hydrogenation of CO for the methanol synthesis as an example. Cu-Zn-Al was the conventional catalysts for this reaction. It has several advantages, 1) high activity 2) low cost 3) long life, Palladium could be a good hydrogenation catalyst, however, compared with copper based catalyst, it was so expensive for commercial use for this reaction. But for another reaction, like selective hydrogenation of ethyne to ethylene, palladium is widely used. Because in this reaction, we think the selectivity is far outweigh the other parameters, like the activity. palladium catalyst has a good selectivity, it could selective absorb ethyne to its surface. Especially, for this reaction , the reactant, I mean, in the industrial process, contains only a rather small amount of ethyne. So not too much catalysts are needed for this reaction, in other work, supported noble metals, catalysts containing Pd<1% is enough for this reaction.
To evaluate whether a catalyst is suitable for a reaction, you need to consider the catalysis activity, the selectivity, the life , the cost, ,,,,So,it always takes many years of repeated experiments from invention of a novel catalyst, then laboratory test, then pilot plant test to prove it, until it finally could used in the industrial process.