Benoît Fourneyron

Benoît Fourneyron

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Benoît Fourneyron was a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems. Engineers design materials, structures, machines and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality,...

, born in Saint-Étienne
Saint-Étienne is a city in eastern central France. It is located in the Massif Central, southwest of Lyon in the Rhône-Alpes region, along the trunk road that connects Toulouse with Lyon...

, Loire
Loire is an administrative department in the east-central part of France occupying the River Loire's upper reaches.-History:Loire was created in 1793 when after just 3½ years the young Rhône-et-Loire department was split into two. This was a response to counter-Revolutionary activities in Lyon...

. Fourneyron made significant contributions to the development of water turbine
Water turbine
A water turbine is a rotary engine that takes energy from moving water.Water turbines were developed in the 19th century and were widely used for industrial power prior to electrical grids. Now they are mostly used for electric power generation. They harness a clean and renewable energy...


Benoît Fourneyron was educated at the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Saint-Étienne
École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Saint-Étienne
The école nationale supérieure des mines de Saint-Étienne is one of the French generalist engineering schools Grandes Ecoles.The école nationale supérieure des mines of Saint Etienne is one of the French "Grandes Ecoles" dedicated to training highly qualified engineers and to carrying out research...

, a nearby engineering school that had recently opened. After he graduated in 1816, he spent the next few years in mines
Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, from an ore body, vein or seam. The term also includes the removal of soil. Materials recovered by mining include base metals, precious metals, iron, uranium, coal, diamonds, limestone, oil shale, rock...

 and ironwork
Ironwork is any weapon, artwork, utensil or architectural feature made of iron especially used for decoration. There are two main types of ironwork wrought iron and cast iron. While the use of iron dates as far back as 4000BC, it was the Hittites who first knew how to extract it and develop weapons...

Around this time, a number of French engineers—including some of Fourneyron's former teachers—were starting to apply the mathematical techniques of modern science to the ancient mechanism called the waterwheel.

For centuries, waterwheels had been used to convert the energy of streams into mechanical power, mostly for milling grain. But the new machines of the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 required more power, and by the 1820s there was enormous interest in making waterwheels more efficient.

Using one of his former teacher's proposals as a guide, Fourneyron built in 1827, at age of 25 years, his first prototype for a new type of waterwheel, called a "turbine". (The term turbine is derived from the Latin word for a spinning top). In Fourneyron's design, the wheel was horizontal, unlike the vertical wheels in traditional waterwheels. This 6 hp turbine used two sets of blades, curved in opposite directions, to get as much power as possible from the water's motion. Fourneyron won a 6,000 franc prize offered by the French Society for the Encouragement of Industry for the development of the first commercial hydraulic turbine.

Over the next decade, Fourneyron built bigger and better turbines, learning from his mistakes after each new model. By 1837, he had a 60 hp turbine capable of a fantastic 2,300 rotations per minute. On that model, the turbine's wheel was only one foot in diameter, and it weighed just 40 pounds. It operated at 80 percent efficiency.

Within a few years, hundreds of factories used Fourneyron-style turbines. Other countries adopted the design to power their industrial machinery, too. Immediately successful, it powered industry in continental Europe and the U.S., notably the New England textile industry. In 1895 Fourneyron turbines were installed on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls
The Niagara Falls, located on the Niagara River draining Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, is the collective name for the Horseshoe Falls and the adjacent American Falls along with the comparatively small Bridal Veil Falls, which combined form the highest flow rate of any waterfalls in the world and has...

to generate electric power.