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Castner Medal and Lecture 2017: interview with Professor Frank Walsh

Castner Medal

26 Sep 2017

SCI’s Castner Medal and Lecture was established in 1946 in recognition of Hamilton Castner, a founding member of SCI and pioneer in the field of electrochemistry. It is with great pleasure that SCI’s Electrochemical Technology Group will award the Castner Medal 2017 to Professor in Electrochemical Engineering at the University of Southampton, Professor Frank Walsh. In collaboration with industry, Professor Walsh has developed or improved over sixty industrial electrochemical processes, primarily in the areas of energy conversion, environmental treatment, electrosynthesis, engineering coatings, corrosion control, electrochemical nanomaterials and materials recycling. Professor Walsh will receive the award at an event held in his honour on Tuesday 31 October 2017 where he will give a lecture on the Developments in Electrodes and Electrochemical Cell Design. Here he tells us a bit more about the topic.

Please tell us about the Castner Medal Lecture 2017: Developments in Electrodes and Electrochemical Cell Design.
Modern developments in manufacturing and characterisation of 3D porous electrode materials, cell miniaturisation and characterisation of reaction environment are helping to improve and transform aspects of chemicals synthesis, environmental remediation, surface finishing of materials and clean energy conversion. Ability to utilise electrodes on an industrial scale requires adequate tailoring of structure, surface finishing/functionalisation and characterisation.

Is there any new or interesting research being undertaken on the topic?
Miniaturisation of cells, ambitious multiphysics computer models running on PCs, the march of 3D printing manufacturing techniques and developments in diverse coating and surface functionalisation of electrodes are helping transform a classical subject.

Is there any controversial debate around electrodes and electrochemical cell design?
Despite the need to secure improved R & D funding for materials engineering, new electrode structures, there are few showcases for technology and demonstrated scale-up case studies to provide enhanced industrial confidence and engineering experience in the diverse, enabling subject of electrochemical technology. There is a tendency to pursue fast, convenient, low cost computer modelling rather than integrate this with experimental justification. Miniaturisation can produce compact cells but their ability to survive scale-up is unclear. 3D printing is a transformational technology but the range of printable materials, complexity of structure and scale of operation need to increase; meanwhile, this joins the valuable toolkit for electrode manufacture and cell construction.

What makes this topic current and relevant to today’s audience?
Electrochemical devices provide such diverse contributions as:
a) sensors for process control, the environment and personal safety
b) reactors for the synthesis of tonnage and specialty chemicals, ranging from chloralkali synthesis and aluminium extraction to fine or pharmaceutical chemicals
c) unit processes in the armoury for environmental remediation and avoidance/recycling of waste materials
d) electrochemical devices for energy storage and conversion ranging from miniaturised batteries, modern batteries for portable devices and fuel cells through to forthcoming supercapacitors and large, grid-scale flow batteries.

What does the future hold for academics/industrialists in this field?
The opportunity to further integrate a) fundamental electrochemistry principles with electrochemical engineering practice and b) lab measurements on miniature electrodes and industrial scale devices and to provide improved and exciting new technologies. Many new materials will be enabled or characterised by applied electrochemical techniques; exciting new materials will be enabled by computer models linked via digital visualisation software to prototype manufacture.

What are your thoughts on receiving SCI’s Castner Medal?
I am proud and privileged to receive this honour, following a career which has continuously interfaced between industry and academia, pure and engineering electrochemistry, not to mention integrating bits of pharmacy, materials science, chemical engineering and physics. The award reflects the important contributions made by many students, research workers, academic colleagues and industrial engineers; their collaboration has enriched my life.

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