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Hydrogen for automotive applications ? A brief historical reminder. Tom Govers SASP 2008.

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Presentation on theme: "Hydrogen for automotive applications ? A brief historical reminder. Tom Govers SASP 2008."— Presentation transcript:

1 Hydrogen for automotive applications ? A brief historical reminder. Tom Govers SASP 2008

2 For more quantitative considerations, please refer to the SASP 2008 abstracts and to the "Hydrogen" page of


4 After the French Revolution, the new rulers became interested in using balloons to observe enemy manoeuvres.

5 They appointed scientist Charles Coutelle to conduct studies using ” l'Entreprenant ”, a hydrogen-filled balloon and the world's first military reconnaissance aircraft.

6 The balloon found its first use in the 1794 Battle of Fleurus, a small town near Charleroi, in what is now (still ?) Belgium. The area seems to have been one of Europe's favourite battle grounds.

7 1431, Incendie de la ville, après passage à la souveraineté des Ducs de Bourgogne 1554 et 1556 Pillage de Fleurus par les troupes françaises d'Henri II 1622 : première bataille de Fleurus, gagnée par Don Gonzalès de Cordoue (Spain against the army hired by the protestant Netherlands) 1690 : deuxième bataille de Fleurus, remportée par l'armée de Louis XIV, dit le Roy Soleil (France against the Grand Alliance) 1701 à 1714, guerre de succession d'Espagne avec de nombreux passages de troupes 1794 : troisième bataille de Fleurus où l'armée révolutionnaire de Jourdan bat Cobourg (France against the Austrians) 1815 : bataille de Ligny - Fleurus qui vit la défaite de Napoléon à Waterloo (France against the rest of Europe)

8 Thus, citoyen scientist Coutelle became captain in the French revolutionary army and commander of the world’s first air force squadron.


10 Citoyen scientist Lavoisier, who had demonstrated that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, was not so fortunate.

11 He was beheaded that same year of 1794. When he asked for additional time to complete his last experiment, the " Court’s " chairman responded :

12 " La République n'a pas besoin de savants ni de chimistes ; le cours de la justice ne peut être suspendu." In fact, Lavoisier's execution was urgent because he was wealthy, and because the "République" needed money to pay its soldiers.



15 To fill the balloon, Coutelle used an on-site hydrogen generator developed at the Meudon research centre. Sustainable energy was provided by copious amounts of firewood. It took between 36 and 40 hours to fill the balloon, which carried two observers.

16 Purified water was thermally decomposed in incandescent cast-iron tubes filled with iron turnings that ensured thermal contact and acted as an oxygen getter.

17 Coutelle’s balloon contributed significantly to the French victory

18 In 1789 Napoleon was elected member of the French Academy of Sciences In 1799, he staged a coup d'état and became First Consul of the French Republic In 1801 he was appointed President of the French Academy of Sciences In 1803 he became Mediator of the Swiss Republic In 1804 he crowned himself Emperor of the French In 1805 he was crowned King of Italy

19 Napoleon knew how to recognise a brilliant scientist when he met one.

20 In June of 1800, First Consul Napoleon, to whom Volta had first paid his respects in 1796, granted the scientist from Como tenure as Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Pavia.

21 In 1801 Volta went to Paris, accompanied by Brugnatelli, to demonstrate the research work that had led him to the invention of the battery.


23 In the presence of First Consul Napoleon, he read his "Memoria sull'identità del fluido elettrico col fluido galvanico", and received a gold medal in recognition of his outstanding scientific contributions.

24 The first French Republic was rather short-lived.


26 In 1805, Emperor Napoleon awarded Count Volta of Como the Légion d'Honneur, and granted him a life-long pension of 4000 francs per year.

27 Keenly interested in the practical implementations of science, Volta's many achievements included the demonstration that hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis, and that an electric spark will provoke an explosive reaction in a hydrogen oxygen mixture.

28 More than two hundred years ago it had thus been demonstrated that hydrogen can be extracted from water by thermal decomposition or by electrolysis, and that "on-site" production can be achieved at or near the site of utilisation.

29 And on January 30, 1807, Isaac de Rivaz, of the City of Sion, Republic of Valais, filed a patent application for the "invention of the principle, means and procedures by which the deflagration of the flammable gas is used to impart motion to machines of different kinds".

30 The flammable gas was a mixture of air and hydrogen, and it was ignited by an electric spark.

31 Excerpts from the application certificate delivered by the French Minister of the Interior and from de Rivaz' description of his invention are reproduced below, courtesy of the Archives de l'Etat du Valais in Sion, where the originals are conserved.





36 Four months later, on May 31, 1807, Emperor Napoleon confirmed the grant of a 15 year patent to Isaac de Rivaz, of the Republic of Valais, for his discovery of the hydrogen-fuelled Internal Combustion engine. The decree was published in the October 1807 issue of the "Bulletin des Lois de l'Empire Français".



39 A numerical reproduction of the Bulletin des Lois can be found on Gallica, the site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France The numerical copy of de Rivaz' handwritten description of his invention was kindly provided by the Archives de l'Etat du Valais

40 A miniature model of de Rivaz’ environmental-friendly hydrogen powered automobile is on exhibit in the museum in Martigny: s/fr/culture_musees.cfm&sousmenuId=28§io n=1&langue=en


42 Two hundred years later, BMW's misleading publicity campaign could at best be viewed as a tribute to Isaac de Rivaz' remarkable invention.



45 Thanks for your interest ! The ppt file is be available at

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