Monday, July 19, 2010

Solar Energy - The French Connection part one


The French Connection

This is the story of the development of solar power in France It is told in three acts. Each act features one of three main players; a mathematician, an engineer and a poet/visionary.

Act 1

Monsieur Augustin Mouchot

Augustin Mouchot (April 2, 1825 - October 4, 1912)

Augustin Mouchot was a mathematics professor at the Lycée de Tours. He became fixated with the idea of finding alternative energy sources, as he believed that coal, the main industrial fuel at that time, would eventually run out.

Being a mathematician, he was inspired by the work of both the Swiss physicist Horace-Bénédict de Saussur, and of Claude Pouillet the French physicist who was one of the first to attempt a calculation of the suns total energy falling on the earth. He did his first solar energy experiments in 1860 when he began experimenting with solar cooking.

1866 a Solar Powered Engine

Between 1860 and 1880 he worked on developing solar powered steam engines. By mid 1866, Augustin Mouchot had completed his first sun powered engine which was presented to Napoleon III in Paris. Mouchot continued development and increased the scale of his solar experiments. Just three years later in 1869 he published a book on solar energy called; “La Chaleur solaire et ses Applications industrielles”. That same year (1869) his largest solar engine was displayed in Paris until the city was taken by the Prussians, his machine disappeared, never again to be found.

Mouchot's Solar engine at the Lycée de Tours

The war left Augustin Mouchot in a position where he could not afford to continue his experiments for several years. Eventually, a chance came by way of a local government grant, and he installed a solar concentrator at the Lycée de Tours. It was reported that during testing, the heat was so intense that boiler looked like it might explode.

Later Monsieur Mouchot installed another machine at the Paris Exhibition of 1878. It had a solar mirror of some 4 meters in diameter and an 80-litre boiler. He confounded the crowd by using the steam to drive an ice maker and produced ice from the sun. His daring ingenuity earned him a Gold Medal.

Augustin Mouchot had a very cleaver and able assistant an engineer called Abel Pifre, who features in our Act 2 (coming soon). Monsieur Pifre went on to develop more solar engines while the originating genius Mouchot himself went back to his mathematics, and left the glare of solar energy publicity behind.


"Eventually industry will no longer find in Europe the resources to satisfy its prodigious expansion.. Coal will undoubtedly be used up. What will industry do then?" Augustin Bernard Mouchot 1880


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