In November 2017, Professor Frank C Walsh was presented with the Castner Medal, which SCI awards biennially to an authority on applied electrochemistry in a subject connected with chemical research.
Established in 1946, the medal is named after chemist Hamilton Castner (1858–99), best known as a pioneer in the field of industrial electrochemistry. He discovered the chloralkali process for caustic soda manufacture, resulting in the now world-famous mercury cell for the electrolysis of brine. His process was patented in 1892 and was soon established in many parts of the world, making full use of SCI connections.
In his medal lecture, Professor Walsh summarised a lifetime effort devoted to the development of advanced electrodes with enhanced performance for industrial electrochemical applications, as well as large-scale corrosion management (historical submarines and large ships, for example), and improved metal finishing methods.
Speaking with the experience of a 40-year combined career in academia and industry, Professor Walsh began his lecture with a statement of the important research needs and good experimental practice in real-world, applied electrochemistry.
Small, well-polished electrodes are rarely representative of the reaction or service environment in production settings. An apparently simple concept, the electrode surface area has a critical role in the scale up of electrochemical technology, he said.
Electrodes have evolved from early polished metal plates and mercury wells into porous carbon materials, metal foams, and, more recently, into nanostructured hierarchical and 3D-printed porous structures.
These concepts, championed by Professor Walsh and others, now enable modern advances in electrochemical reactors, flow batteries, fuel cells, supercapacitors and beyond.
His contributions have also reached the field of metal coatings, including composite materials with intelligent characteristics, such as super-hydrophobicity and self-indicating wear diagnostics.
Similarly, he demonstrated how graphene can be readily prepared by electrochemical methods and medical drugs released from conductive polymer films. The most recent contributions of the Electrochemical Engineering Laboratory directed by Professor Walsh include the study of noble metal electrodeposits by x-ray tomography and the design of tailored auxetic polymer foams.
Frank predicts the rise of real-time, interactive modelling of electrochemical systems, the remote control of tailored, fast-production electrochemical devices, and charging of autonomous drones with powerful batteries. Professor Walsh ended his talk by thanking his industrial colleagues, research collaborators and dedicated students (some now successful academics and industrialists themselves) over the course of a long career. Professor Walsh’s colleagues know well that he has impacted not only large-scale industrial processes, but also the training and life of many students and industrial practitioners.
By Luis Fernando Arenas-Martinez