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WEEKLY EVENING MEETING,
Friday, February 13, 1863.
WILLIAM ROBERT GROVE, Esq. M.A. Q.C. F.R.S. Vice-President,
in the Chair.
EDWARD FRANKLAND, Esq. F.R.S.
On Artificial Illumination. Ten years ago the speaker gave in this Institution a sketch of the condition of Artificial Illumination. Since that period but little progress had been made towards perfecting those processes of producing artificial light at that time in general use. Nevertheless, the improvements effected in the production and application of the electric light, the increase of our knowledge both of solar and terrestrial light, and especially the discovery of an entirely new illuminating agent, threatening to produce a revolution in lighting almost equal to that which was the result of the invention of gas-rendered it desirable again to review this subject after the lapse of a decade.
In glancing at the improvements effected in the different departments of artificial illumination, those which relate to the Electric Light were first noticed. The electric light is produced by the interruption of an electric current flowing through good conductors; by this interruption the current is made to leap across a space provided in its circuit. The boundaries of this space, in the ordinary electric light, are formed by two portions of gas carbon, and during the passage of the electric current across it, the two pieces of carbon are heated to a most intense degree, and far beyond that produced by any other means at our disposal. The great source of illuminating power was shown to be the ignited ends of these two pieces of gas-carbon, and not the space between them.
Such being the nature of the electric light, the principal improvement which has been effected in it, during the past ten years, consists in the production of the electric current through the intervention of heat and mechanical force, by what is termed magneto-electricity. More than thirty years ago, Mr. Faraday produced a spark from the ordinary permanent magnet. Here, said the speaker (producing magnet) is the very cradle of this magneto-electric light, and this is the very magnet with which Mr. Faraday operated. This improvement constitutes one of the greatest steps in advance which have been made in the application and production of the electric light. By the
combustion of coal a certain amount of mechanical power is obtained, which is applied to the rotation of masses of iron in the neighbourhood of very powerful permanent magnets. In this way, currents of electricity are produced, and these are thrown together, and made to circulate through a system of conductors: in fact, there is no difference, as regards the effect at the carbon-prisms, between the action of this magneto-electric current, and the ordinary electric current produced by the chemical action which takes place in the voltaic battery. But this improved mode of producing the electric force demands less manual labour ; the mechanical work being performed by a steam-engine, which causes the rotation of the armatures.
This magneto-electric apparatus, as perfected by Mr. Holmes, has now been in use for upwards of two years in the South Foreland and Dungeness lighthouses, where, as well as in other similar beacons, the production of a light of the greatest intensity is of the greatest importance to the mariner. During this time it has performed its office remarkably well, and without a single instance of failure ; thus proving itself well adapted for the purposes of lighthouse illumination.
For domestic light it has not yet been brought into use; its expense, doubtless, at the present moment, being far too great to admit of its being employed in this way : but where a light of great intensity, regardless almost of the question of expense, is required, as in the case of lighthouses, this magneto-electric light can scarcely be too much prized.
The speaker also described the mercurial electric light, but considered it inferior both in brilliancy and steadiness to that procured by the passage of the electric current between carbon terminals.
The discoveries and improvements connected with Gas as an illuminating agent were then considered. It is of great importance that gas, as a light-giving material, should be improved to the utmost possible extent, so as to make it a perfect source of light. Its conveniences are so patent to every one, its use is attended with so few discomforts, and the light is obtained with such facility, and of any desired intensity within certain limits, that there is, perhaps, no source of artificial light capable of such general application. Nevertheless, this is one of the modes of illumination which, having been long previously in use, have not made great progress during the past ten years. The sulphur compounds, which at the commencement of that time were complained of as being present in purified gas, are still there in considerable, if not in undiminished quantity, although there has recently been a process devised by means of which these impurities can be, to a great extent, got rid of. It remains to be seen whether this process be applicable, on a large scale, in the gas manufactory; but, so far as can be judged from experiments made upon a small scale, it is a process which is likely to be very effective. It is the invention of the Rev. Mr. Bowditch, of Wakefield. These sulphur compounds are irremovable in the ordinary process of purification. The gas may
Vol. IV. (No. 37.)
be passed in the usual manner over hydrate of lime, or the peroxide of iron; but this operation does not, in the slightest degree, affect the sulphur compounds in question. During the combustion of the gas, however, their sulphur is converted into sulphurous acid, which diffuses itself into the apartment in which the gas is burned, and a great deal of the discomfort of which many complain in the use of gas is due to this cause. Mr. Bowditch discovered that though cold hydrate of lime will not remove these impurities, they are to a great extent got rid of by heating the hydrate of lime to a temperature varying from the boiling point of water up to 400° or 500° Fahr., a temperature of 400° being the most convenient for the development of the effects of his process. The heated hydrate of lime converts the sulphur compounds into sulphuretted hydrogen and carbonic acid, which can then be removed by the ordinary purifying material-cold hydrate of lime. This process has been found by repeated experiments to remove all but about 2 or 3 grains of sulphur per 100 cubic feet of gas, the quantity of sulphur originally contained in the gas varying from 5 or 6 grains up to 20 grains in 100 cubic feet. Heated hydrate of lime was shown to develop sulphuretted hydrogen from the gas supplied to the Institution.
Another recently ascertained fact in connection with gas is the discovery of a new illuminating constituent recently made by M. Berthelot. This is a gaseous body, called Acetylene, which is produced under very peculiar circumstances. Unlike all other hydrocarbons with which we were formerly acquainted, an intense heat is favourable to the production of this body. For instance, it is produced when coke is very intensely ignited in hydrogen gas; and Dr. Odling has recently demonstrated that two of the constituents of coal-gas, light carburetted hydrogen and carbonic oxide, which are useless for lighting purposes, may, by means of strong ignition, be made to form acetylene, and thus become luminiferous agents. It has generally been considered important to preserve a moderate degree of heat in gas-making, in order to prevent the destruction of the luminiferous hydrocarbons ; but the discovery of the formation of acetylene, under the circumstances named, will render it necessary to investigate how far the production of this substance can be carried on upon a large scale, and rendered valuable for increasing the illuminating power of gas. The subject is yet in embryo ; but it has an important bearing upon the future progress of gas-lighting. Acetylene and olefiant gas contain, in equal volumes, the same amount of carbon, but the former contains only half as much hydrogen as the latter; consequently, the illuminating power of acetylene is probably at least double that of olefiant gas.
The compound of acetylene with copper, is a substance not altogether devoid of interest to the gas-manufacturer. When it attains a certain heat, it explodes with considerable violence, and the same effect may be produced by friction. It has been demonstrated recently, that acetylide of copper can be produced by the passage of ordinary coalgas, containing, as it does, a trace of ammonia, through copper or brass tubes; and explosions which have taken place through clean
ing out such tubes, resulting in serious injury to workmen, have been doubtless due to the presence of this substance. It is, of course, obvious that an explosion of this kind, even if slight in itself, may be communicated to explosive mixtures of gas and air (in a gas-holder or gas-meter, for instance), and may thus lead to very disastrous results. An explosion of this kind occurred a few years ago in Lancashire. A large meter had been detached, and brought into the open air ; a workman was unscrewing one of the brass connections, when the meter exploded with a loud report. The explosion could not be accounted for, as all the eye-witnesses were positive that no ignited body of any kind was near the meter.
The improvements effected in the production and application of Oils for illuminating purposes were next referred to.
The animal and vegetable oils, which for ages have been employed for this purpose, have received no development of importance during the last ten years. On the other hand, new sources of this class of illuminants have been discovered, which threaten to produce a great revolution in the modes of obtaining artificial light.
One of the most important of the materials manufactured from these sources is paraffin-oil, the production of which from Bog coal has been carried out on an immense scale with great ingenuity and success by Mr. Young, of Bathgate, near Edinburgh. [The speaker here exhibited several lamps fed with this oil.] This new source of light is however already threatened by a formidable rival-native coal oil—which has been distilled by nature herself, and consequently does not require those preliminary processes which oil produced from bituminous coal has to undergo. These discoveries bave been made principally in the United States of America, and more especially in Canada. In the latter country alone no less than twenty millions of gallons of this oil have been obtained from wells, several of which are spouting-wells. From these the oil rises, probably from the pressure of gas, to a considerable height above the surface of the ground, so as not to require pumping. The twenty millions of gallons, which represent the annual production of the Canadian wells, may, upon a moderate calculation, be said to furnish, in refined oil alone, illuminating material equal to one hundred and eighty millions of pounds of sperm candles.
The importance of such a vast amount of illuminating material so cheaply obtained can scarcely be overrated in connexion with the question of the production of artificial light. Up to the present time, the refined oil from this crude petroleum (specimens of which were exhibited) has been prevented from coming into effective competition with the original paraffin-oil, owing to the carelessness with which the former has been manufactured. There is a considerable portion of light naphtha left in this oil, which renders it capable of forming explosive mixtures in the lamps wherein it is burned. Both these American oils require to be still further freed from volatile naphtha. They would then form valuable illuminating materials.
The speaker then directed attention to the following tables. The first contains the results of his experiments on the illuminating effect of these oils in connection with that of some other materials used for giving artificial light:Illuminating Equivalents, or the Quantities of different Illuminating
Materials necessary to Produce the same amount of Light.
1.26 do. No. 2
1.30 Paraffin candles.
26.4 Stearic do.
27.6 Composite do.
36 From this table was made the following calculation of the comparative cost, from different sources, of the light of twenty spermaceti candles, each burning for ten hours, at the rate of 120 grains per hour:
3 10 Paraffin-oil
0 61 Thus, from an economical point of view, the rock-oil and the paraffin-oil approach gas much more closely than any other illuminating agent hitherto invented; while the enormous quantities in which these oils are now being produced cannot fail to make them still lower in price. They may consequently be regarded as very formidable rivals of gasligbt.
The following table contains the amount of carbonic acid and heat generated per hour by various illuminating agents, each giving the light of twenty sperm candles :Carbonic acid,
10*1 cubic feet
29 Rock-oil This table shows to what extent the atmosphere of rooms is deteriorated by these illuminating agents. It shows also that, from this point of view, paraffin and rock-oils stand out as the best sources of light
The chemical and physical laws upon which all modes of artificial