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British Industrial History

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Compagnie de l'Alliance

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La société de construction électrique L'Alliance of Paris, electrical engineers, were more commonly referred to as l'Alliance.

They were noted for their alternators, which were the first to provide the power for arc lights in French and British lighthouses. These machines were characterised by using a large number of steel permanent horseshoe magnets to produce their magnetic fields, in which a rotor with numerous coils rotated. The key figure in their inception was Prof. Floris Nollet

In 1849 Nollet had designed a steam-driven generator capable of producing a powerful current. It was an improvement over previous machines from Hippolyte Pixii and Joseph Saxton. In 1850 he obtained a first patent on his invention and later he would improve his magneto-electric machine with his Brussels assistant Joseph Van Malderen.

After Nollet's death in 1853, the Alliance company, led by Auguste Berlioz, obtained his generator patent. With Van Malderen as chief engineer and assisted by Masson, du Moncel, and Frederick Hale Holmes, the company, located in a gas plant at Paris's Hôtel des Invalides, eventually succeeded in developing a functional generator.

The main application that Nollet had in mind was the electrolysis of water. In those days people were looking for a practical way to produce oxygen and hydrogen for limelight floodlights. Limited success was obtained at the Paris Hôtel des Invalides in 1856. Nollet had also mentioned the heating of a carbon wire in vacuum in the patent as a possible application. However, it was Holmes who came up with the idea of using the generator to power arc lamps. This promising light source did not get off the ground because of the limitations of the current electrochemical power sources. Holmes' version of the Nollet generator was tested in the lighthouses of South Foreland (1859) and permanently installed in Dungeness (1862). Nollet-type machines to Holmes' patent, but not made by l'Alliance, were installed at Souter Point Lighthouse and at South Foreland Lighthouse.

In France, l'Alliance developed an improved version of the system based on alternating current, more suited to arc lamps. The resulting Alliance machine was shown at the Crystal Palace. Shortly after, installations followed in the port of Le Havre (Phare de la Neve , 1863) and on Cap Gris-Nez . In September 1863 the system was tested in an underground slate mine near Angers . The installation was done under licence by the société Bazin , but under the supervision of L'Alliance's most experienced engineer, Zénobe Gramme. The results were rated as very positive, but the costs were still prohibitive for the time being.

However another Belgian engineer at the Alliance would soon invent an even more powerful power generator: the Gramme dynamo (1869) soon made Nollet's invention obsolete. The Siemens dynamo also became extremely popular in a short time. However, Auguste de Meritens successfully developed an improved version of the Alliance machine.

The above information is mainly based on the Wikipedia entry for Floris Nollet.[1]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Google translation of Belgian Wikipedia entry for Floris Nollet