A highly innovative, high temperature, high. concentration, solar optical system at the turn of the. nineteenth century. The Pyrheliophoro


Manuel Collares Pereira (Coordinator Researcher)

INETI, Renewable Energies Department,

Edificio G, Az. dos Lameiros,1649-038
Lisbon, Portugal
collares. pereira@ineti. pt


The ISES initiative of recovering the recent and not so recent history of solar energy and its pioneers has prompted several investigations into the past. Several gems of ingenuity, scientific and technical capacity, way ahead of their time, have been uncovered. The one to be described in this paper is one of those, having produced quite a stir in its own time. It was soon to be forgotten given that the World in transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, was about to embark in the "oil race", and solar energy was not even given half a chance to be "in the race" at that time.

Father Himalaya 1902

The man behind the work described here was a truly remarkable personality, a self made scientist, a catholic priest, without a proper (academic) scientific training. Through life he tried to compensate for it by his constant travels, in particular to France (mainly Paris), but also to many other scientific relevant European Countries, in particular England and Germany and to the U. S., interacting and even studying with top notch people of his day, like Berthelot, Moissan, Violle, among others.

His name was Manuel Antonio Gomes, soon nicknamed by a friend as Himalaya, because he was taller than his colleagues. He added this nickname to his name and was ( and still only is) known by it. He was born in 1868, in Cendufe, a small village in the North of Portugal. He was one in a large family with little economical resources. As usual in those days and in such circumstances, he entered the Seminary, as a way to study and to succeed in life. He was ordained priest, and a practicing priest he was until his last day (in 1933), in spite of his very controversial life style, unorthodox views of the Church and its dogmas, the very critical position he had on items like the forced celibacy of priests and its constant fight for a more socially responsible and committed Church, embracing as he did the truly liberal, republican, socialistic and idealistic ideas of the day.

He was quite famous in his lifetime and respected for his achievements. He became member of the Portuguese Science Academy and had at least an attentive audience amidst the politicians of that day.

This paper is dedicated to his crown achievement in the field of optics and solar thermal, but he is also known for many other original contributions, for which he got
a truly large number of patents, in Europe and in the U. S.. and, most notably, the Grand Prix at the St. Louis World Exhibition of 1904.

He really lacked a proper high level training in Physics and other basic sciences, which would have been very good to shape his enormous qualities has an experimentalist and as a mechanical genius. His training in chemistry was probably deeper (his interaction with Berthelot and other important chemists certainly had a crucial part in that). Among other things he invented and developed an explosive ( a chlorine based, smokeless-powder, the himalayite — said to be more powerful, easier and safer to use than dynamite) which he put to many pacific usages, in particular in agriculture and in quarries [48]. His explosive was sought after by several armies of the World (U. S., German, Portuguese, etc.) and his involvement with some of those is still more or less shrouded in mystery. Another one of his inventions, deserving a mention in this brief account, is the one of a rotary steam engine, looking very much like the rotary engines first proposed-and developed — many years after[49] .

He was also a Nature lover, a self trained biologist, a practitioner of natural medicine, but, most remarkably, he was an ecologist "avant la lettre", an explicit and stout advocate of sustainable development, through a proper balance of Humanity, its needs and Nature, regarded by him not just as a provider but also as an important part of the whole scheme of things. He constantly called for Renewable Energies (solar, hydro, tidal, wave,…) as the means for long term and balanced solutions for the many problems caused by poverty and starvation facing the World of his time and in particular of his own country. He had, in this regard, a truly modern view of the World and of the place of Man in Nature, a view which is taking another hundred years to affirm itself.

This note and comments are largely based on the remarkable book [1] written by Prof. Jacinto Rodrigues, which is now about to be translated in several languages and being used as the basis for a movie on the extraordinary life of this towering man and personality.

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