Future application of Fischer–Tropsch synthesis for the conversion of alternative carbon sources into liquid products depends on economic justification and strategic interest. The process economics is sensitive to the feed-product price differential and the high capital cost associated with Fischer–Tropsch facilities. Consequently many of the past investments in FTS were justified on strategic grounds to provide energy security. The past, current and future role of Fischer–Tropsch refining catalysis is explored within this framework. In addition to the normal economical and legislative change drivers, the future impact of biomass conversion, carbon dioxide regulations and chemicals production are discussed. All of these highlight the key role of refining catalysis to improve carbon efficiency and beneficially exploit oxygenates.