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Portugal in the History of Solar Power: the Pyreliophorus

Updated on December 18, 2016
Solar Generator 1878
Solar Generator 1878 | Source

The fist Solar Oven is credited to Horace de Saussure a Swiss physicist, alpine explorer, and aristocrat and could heat up to 87.5°C.

The Portuguese Manuel António Gomes, nicknamed "Father Himalaya" (because he was tall) was one of the pioneers of the Solar energy technologies.
He studied in Paris with Marcellin Berthelot, developing mathematical and astronomical theories to build an innovative mechanism to concentrate the solar radiation inspired by the solar-powered steam engines, an invention by the French mathematician Augustin Mouchot (another forgotten figure).

It's important to realize that at that time, the oil industry was in its beginnings and no one was much interested in the alternative energies.

Pyreliophorus patent figure
Pyreliophorus patent figure | Source

The Father Himalaya's Pyreliophorus (neologism composed from the Greek and that means approximately "I bring the fire of the Sun"), was a solar oven capable of reaching very high temperatures.

Between 1899 and 1904 Father Himalaya will have built and tested four different versions of his device. The first experiment would have reached a temperature of about 500 ° C, and soon with the following prototype, in the Pyrenees, the temperature obtained by the solar furnace was around 1100 ° C.

The third model, already diverse from the previous ones, was built in Lisbon in 1902 and showed in the Exhibition Park of Tapada da Ajuda where a large part of the Lisbon scientific society, teachers and even King D. Carlos attended a demonstration. This device reached 2000 ° C., melting basalt blocks.

Father Himalaya and the Pyreliophorus
Father Himalaya and the Pyreliophorus | Source

The last version was intended to be assembled and exhibited at the Portuguese Pavilion at the St. Louis Universal Exposition (U.S.A.) of 1904 and was awarded with two gold and one silver medals.
This final version of the Pyreliophorus could reach 3800 ° C which allowed the melting of any rocks or metals and was hailed by the scientific community, attracting the praise of the entire world press, with particular emphasis on the American.
This apparatus essentially comprises an optical system which converges the solar rays at a single point where the crucible is placed, a mechanism to orientate the apparatus in a convenient position according to the height of the sun and to the time of the year and a system of crucible or furnace allowing to melt in vacuum or in an inert medium different from the atmospheric environment.
The St. Louis model included an 80-m2 parabola composed of 6,177 reflecting mirrors that converged on the crucible. The metal frame that held the device was 13 meters high.

Perhaps this gigantic dimension, contributed to making the Portuguese invention the most appreciated and the one that attracted the greatest number of visitors to the Universal Exhibition.

When at the time of his return, he wanted to retrieve his invention, it was found that it had been stolen, despite the weight and dimensions.

Since he was then working on new inventions and had no time and money to rebuild a Pyreliophorus, Father Himalaya didn't work on this invention evermore.
Although Father Himalaya registered the patent, replicas of Pyreliophorus, intended for various purposes, began to appear a few decades after the St. Louis Exposition all over the United States (especially in agricultural and isolated areas).

Crater of a Zeppelin bomb in Paris
Crater of a Zeppelin bomb in Paris | Source

It was during his stay in the United States that the Portuguese inventor developed a powerful explosive, the Himalayite (which he commercially exploited in Portugal) that had a power 10 times higher than dynamite and was intended for agricultural purposes.

Although created with peaceful intentions, it seems that the bombing of Paris by the Germans during World War I would have been done with Himalayite obtained from the projects that would have been stolen from its inventor.

Father Himalaya has also been the author of several other patents: a direct engine and a turbo-engine, a food meal based on small crystaceans mixed in bran, a system of recycling sewage for the production of fertilizers.

It's interesting that in 1908 Father Himalaya already defended the use of renewable energies: tidal energy, the generalization of wind energy and the use of "geisers" for future geothermal energy.

Despite all his scientific work and registered patents there is a notable lack of references about his work.

His work is analyzed in a book "The Solar Conspiration of Father Himalaya - Biographic Outline of a Portuguese Pioneer in Ecology" by Prof. Jacinto Rodrigues and a documentary by Jorge António "Father Himalaya’s Utopia" both in Portuguese.

A question..

What's your opinion about Father Himalaya?

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Reconstructed Pyreliophorus

The Friends of Father Himalaya (Les amis du Padre Himalaya),a French Association interested in the environment and Renewable Energy in the context of sustainable development reconstructed a Pyreliophorus that can be visited in Sorède, France.

Pyreliophorus reconstruction by  the French Assossiation Les Amis du Padre Himalaya.
Pyreliophorus reconstruction by the French Assossiation Les Amis du Padre Himalaya. | Source
How To Make A Solar Oven
How To Make A Solar Oven

This is an easy tutorial about how to make your own solar powered oven.


Most documents found about this subject are in Portuguese or French. The video below is from a french documentary about Father Himalaya because no english version could be found.


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    • Margaridab profile image

      Margarida Borges 11 months ago from Lyon, France

      I'm glad you enjoyed the article :)

    • Janda Raker profile image

      Janda Raker 11 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      I am a great fan of solar energy. This information is quite interesting to me. Father Himalaya was quite ahead of his time. Now we're finally getting use of his ideas. I have small solar panels and a battery to store the energy, allowing me to go camping "off the grid" and have use of my electrical devices. Free electricity. It works!