Heliostat: the brilliant invention of Jean-Luc Perrier, pioneer of concentrated solar and hydrogen technology

You probably don’t know Jean-Luc Perrier, an Angevin born in August 1941 who died in a car accident in 1981… Yet he was a brilliant French scientist, inventor and teacher… His field: concentrated solar and hydrogen technologies… This man is considered to be the pioneer of this field with three inventions which were the first of their kind in the 1970s… He indeed designed a huge “solar oven” or 50 kW heliostat, which we invite you to discover just after. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to realize that what he imagined in 1970 would be more relevant than ever in 2022… Let us specify that this inventor did not receive any subsidy, that he worked more than 5000 hours alone to manage to give life to his inventions… Back on this incredible invention of Jean-Luc Perrier.

Why did he invent this heliostat?

By creating his inventions, the man wanted to draw the attention of industrialists and public authorities to the alternatives to the energy problems of the time… At that time, they were not yet concerned about global warming, but the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 raised fears of a shortage of fuel, heating, etc. Unfortunately for Jean-Luc Perrier and probably for Humanity, the discovery of new oil fields has diverted the interest of public authorities for such inventions. And it is perhaps also because of these new deposits that the authorities, at that time, lost interest in the energies advocated by Perrier.

Jean-Luc Perrier with a jet of steam produced by his solar concentrator. By Jean-Luc PERRIER, CC BY-SA 2.5

The solar oven or heliostat…

This huge structure measures 12 meters wide by 8.6 meters high and has a footprint of 103 m²… The solar oven consists of 71.01 m² of mirrors and weighs 50 tonnes… It was built on a foundation of 40 tonnes of concrete … 263 decommissioned mirrors, recovered or coming from depots, were installed on the surface of the solar oven. These mirrors then concentrate the rays of the Sun towards a boiler that can reach 1,100°Ccapable of developing a power of 50-70 kW.

In 1980, Perrier’s solar oven was the 2th in France in terms of power… He had also imagined that his heliostat would follow the path of the Sun, by orienting the support frame automatically with an angular precision of 0.4 milliradian. In June 1977, the heliostat was used to melt a 25 millimeter aluminum plate at a temperature of 625°C, then in the same year it was able to produce electricity using a turbine steamer, which he had built himself.

Solar concentrator and hydrogen car by Jean-Luc Perrier, during the open house of his installation in Villevêque on September 27, 1980.
Solar concentrator and hydrogen car by Jean-Luc Perrier, during the open house of his installation in Villevêque on September 27, 1980. Photo credit: By Jean Luc PERRIER, CC BY-SA 2.5,

Where can we see this solar oven?

Mr Perrier’s wife offered the heliostat to the Baronnerie, the high school where her husband taught… But that didn’t interest her. She also proposed it to the Futuroscope in Poitiers, in which it would obviously have its place, but another failure… Finally, thanks to Mr Barrault, a longtime friend of the inventor, the heliostat, devoid of its mirrors, took place in the courtyard of the Sainte Croix Museum in Poitiers but it will never be put back on the road. In 2004, he “moved” to the thermal engineering IUT campus in Poitiers, where the mirrorless structure is still to be found today. In 2006, it could have come back to life as part of a university project, but the sum of €100,000 had to be found to redo all the mechanical parts and regalvanize the structure… Which was not possible, and the project was abandoned.


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