- Engineering & Materials
- Fourneyron, Benoit (1802–1867)
Fourneyron, Benoit (1802–1867)
French engineer who invented the first practical water turbine.
Fourneyron was born on October 31, 1802 in Saint-Etienne, Loir. He entered the New School of Mines at Saint-Etienne at the age of 15, having already acquired a good grounding in mathematical sciences from his father, who was a geometrician. Graduating from Saint-Etienne as the top pupil in his class, he went on to apply his skills to various projects including the development of the Le Creusot mines, oil exploration, and the building of a railroad. He pioneered the manufacture of tin plate at Pont-sur-l'Ognon, Haute Saône, ending the British monopoly of the industry.
The fabrication of tin plate involved the use of a water wheel, the efficiency of which was very low. Fourneyman became consumed with the quest to produce a greatly improved water wheel, whose efficiency would surpass that of any model so far in existence. He succeeded in his ambition in 1827 and went on to produce, in 1855, an improved version of his original model. From there he built more than a hundred diverse models of hydraulic turbine, which were exported for use all over the world. He died in Paris on July 8, 1867.
The idea of using a stream of water to drive a wheel is very old and it is thought that the water wheel was invented in the 1st century BC. The first device that operated on the principle of reaction was a steam “turbine” of Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century AD.
Improvement in the design and efficiency of water wheels came slowly. By the early part of the 19th century, with the application of mathematics and a growing knowledge of hydraulics, the first reaction wheels of Leonhard Euler and those of Claude Burdin were produced—but it was Fourneyron, one of Burdin's pupils, who first achieved success. His 1827 reaction turbine was 80% efficient and could develop about 4.5kW/6 hp.
Fourneyron's machine is generally recognized as opening the modern era of practical water turbines. It was essentially an outward-flow turbine. Water passed through fixed guide passages and hence into guide passages in the moveable outer wheel. When the water impinged on these wheel vanes, its direction was changed and it escaped around the periphery of the wheel. But the outward-flow turbine was essentially unstable because as water flowed through the fixed and moveable vanes it entered a region of successively increasing volume. The speed regulation of the turbine also presented difficulties.
Fourneyron patented an improved design that incorporated a three-turbine installation in 1832. However, his machine lost favor, being superseded in 1843 by the Jonval axial-flow machine.
Fourneyron's machines were still used in large commercial undertakings. All his earlier models were based on the free-flow efflux design, but he later realized the advantages of diffusing the outward flow and, in 1855, patented the outflow diffuser, the basis of which forms the modern-day inflow scroll case. Two turbines, each consisting of Fourneyron wheels keyed to one shaft, were used by the Niagara Falls Power Company in 1895. They were built into 49-m/160-ft wheel-pits dug into the supply channel at the top of the falls.
From the Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography, © RM, 2020. All rights reserved. Published under license in AccessScience, © McGraw-Hill Education, 2000–2020. Helicon Publishing is a division of RM.