This article is a shortened version of that published in the journal Historia de Iberia Vieja in the January 2011 edition.
Thank to the forum user “hanon” for his help with the traslation of the patents and documents.
The enigma of Clemente Figuera and the infinite energy machine
I have been following this story for seven years. At first I thought that someone would have already posted a review or even a biography of this celebrity, but I checked with surprise that it sleeps hidden in the mists of history for more than a century and no one has bothered to rescue him. So, finally I decided to make public the singular Clemente Figuera and also to make a plea from these lines, because there is still much to be figured out: If any readers have more information in their possession, or even a descendant of Clement Figuera, I would really appreciate to get that data, in order to compose a little biographical picture of this curious personage. This brings me to narrate the reason why I have had been captivated by his figure for so many years.
This story began in early 2003, while I was gathering the entire documentary basis for writing my first book, Heretics of Science. To shape this work I collected hundreds of cards on theories, scientists and technologies that either were considered very daring at that time, but finally they ended been accepted or, on the other hand, they were still taken as a craziness nonsense. The main personalities were real heretics of science, always on the edge between the demonstrable and the hot air. Among all those cards there was a collection of liars and charlatans who throughout history have shouted to the winds to have given life to perpetual motion machines. None of them called me the smallest attention, especially because they fall perfectly in pseudoscientific, they were not in the border of science nor they were even close to science, they were simple tricksters. Of course, a perpetual motion machine is impossible, so simple. The laws of physics are inflexible and you cannot play with them.
The first clue, from the hands of Nikola Tesla
But everything has its exception. In my search it didn´t appeared any machine which break any of the laws of thermodynamics, but a special case appeared which intrigued me for years. In this middle time I collected everything I could about this subject and, although not much is rescued, I think it’s enough to keep the intrigue. It all started when I found a curious story in an old newspaper. Around the 9th of June, 1902 the New York Times and New York Herald published a short note on certain meeting held between a journalist with a Spanish engineer named Clemente Figueras. Note from here that the real name of the protagonist of this article is Figuera, but in many newspapers and magazines that I could collect from that time insist on naming it as Figueras.
The news of this meeting was published, and echoed, by several newspapers in Spain, England and the United States. What called my attention was that the note stated, categorically, that the engineer had built an electric machine which did not need fuel to run. No further detail appeared in other newspapers, all of them repeating the same phrases. My curiosity aroused, first because I had never heard anything about such Figuera and, mainly, because of that supposed novel machine which was mentioned briefly. I decided to dive a little deeper into the data; I could hardly imagine then that the search would be extended for years.
I found again to Clemente Figuera in an unexpected place, in the private correspondence written by Nikola Tesla. In the correspondence between Tesla and Robert U. Johnson, which can be found in the Tesla Collection at Columbia University Library, Figuera is mentioned. Tesla says in one letter, after reading one of the news published in the press about the Spanish engineer and his supposed machine capable of extracting power from the vacuum, that he had already came to the same conclusions time ago. I have no idea what Tesla´s conclusions were referring about, because the press did not give any detail about the Figuera´s device. Had they been able to be in personal contact? I doubt it, but it is still curious such an emphatic statement. With lots of press clippings from 1902 and the letter of Nikola Tesla, I decided to start pursuing to Clemente Figuera.
The best way to start was to collect all the press clippings from that time where Clemente Figuera was mentioned. There weren´t many, between 1902 and 1906 I could just find a few twenties, and also, they all seemed copies of each other. Here, for example, as published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on June 9, 1902, this is a perfect example of what was published in many other newspapers from various countries around the same date:
London cable to the Chicago Tribune, June 9, 3:00 a.m.
Mr. Clemente Figueras of Las Palmas, Canary Islands, is credited with having invented a contrivance which generates electricity without the use of any intermediate motive power or chemical reaction, but simply gathers the force from the atmosphere. The report of the invention comes from the Daily Mail correspondent at Las Palmas, who says Mr. Figuera has one of his machines in successful operation in his house. The discovered, Mr. Clemente Figueras, is Engineer of Woods and Forest for the Canary Islands, and for many years professor of physics at St. Augustine´s College, Las Palmas, and long known as a scientific student. (…)
Well, we have some of the pieces of the puzzle. A canary engineer appears, a machine that extract energy from the atmosphere, although that was an incorrect assessment by the journalist, and also other data such as the condition of physics professor and inventor, as stated later in the article Figuera had the intention of patenting the technology in Madrid and Berlin. The next logical step was to go to the Patent Office to check about what was mentioned, and whether, indeed, there were such patents. But first, a brief mention should be made of what the Spanish press published about the case around those dates. For example, in the May 1902 edition of the journal The Reading in Science and Arts is written:
In the English newspapers are extensive references to an important discovery conducted by D. Clemente Figueras, forest engineer in Canary Islands and physics professor at College San Agustin from Las Palmas. Mr. Figueras has been working silently in order to find a method to use directly, ie, without dynamos and chemical agent, the huge amounts of electricity which exist in the atmosphere and are being renewed constantly, constituting an inexhaustible reservoir of this form of energy. Our compatriot (…) has achieved his purpose, having managed to invent a generator which can collect and store the atmospheric electric fluid in a position of being able to use later for pulling trams, trains, etc., or to run machinery in factories to light the houses and streets. Although no one knows the details of the procedure that Mr. Figueras reserves until he will get it completely perfected, he states that his invention will produce a tremendous economic and industrial revolution. The apparatus devised by Mr. Figueras has been built in separate pieces, in accordance with the drawings made by him in different companies in Paris, Berlin and Las Palmas. Received the parts, the engineer has put them together and articulate in his workshop. The company from Berlin which built some of the pieces, got curious about what they would be used for, sent an engineer to the Canary Islands, with the pretext of helping set up and with real purpose to study and sketch the whole device, but has not achieved his objective. Apparently, Mr. Figueras´ apparatus consists essentially of three parts: a collector, a transformer and a accumulator, so that, in short, what it does is to collect atmospheric electricity, transforming it from static to dynamic and store it in a secondary battery for later use in the form and amount required. We have understood that the inventor will soon come to Madrid and, later he will depart to Berlin and London, and then you will be able to know the procedure in detail.
Clemente Figuera, an engineer of prestige
I have no idea where the press got the idea about the “atmospheric electricity” because Figuera´s patents, or at least those that I have been able to review, do not mention anything similar. It was clear to me after reading all the press clippings that the personage deserved to be investigated, albeit briefly. What I found next was completely unexpected. From experience, having collected dozens of stories that sound similar mode on alleged inventors of miraculous machines of all kinds, I always came to the same conclusion, namely, that they were solitary adventurers, most of them without proper training or prestige, they thought that they had invented something great or, simply, they were fraudsters. But, with Clemente Figuera I found the perfect engineer, respected and respectable, a well-known person highly appreciated at that time, and which had nothing to do with “crazy” dreamers who develop meaningless inventions. It was Figuera’s own life which disturbed me, because it has nothing to do with an amateur adventurer.
Following the trail from official papers and press publications I have been able to reconstruct a short biography of Clemente Figuera, in which we can see a person with an unblemished career. The first reference I have located about Clemente Figuera y Ustáriz, the full name of our protagonist, was released in November 1865 as laudatory reference to the future engineer, who at that time was advancing in his studies in the university. He also appears among the aspirants to the Forestry Corps. The Official Spanish Guide settle him in Salamanca around 1872, but I haven´t found more references close to that date.
In 1875 Figuera reappears, this time on the occasion of a transfer. It is mentioned that working as Forest Engineer in Malaga and was required to be transfer to Granada. Slowly he rose in his career; in 1880 he was appointed as Second Class Chief Engineer and for several years held that office in the province of Badajoz, moving in 1899 as Chief Engineer in the Canary Island. In 1903 he was promoted to Second Class General Inspector and, in 1904, he was moved to Barcelona with a position as Inspector. Again he was promoted in 1906 to the rank of First Class Inspector, staying in Barcelona until his death, which happened at the end of 1908. It is curious to read the accolades that made his fellow engineers in the press at the time of his death, being considered a flawless and highly respected member of his profession. In various official documents can also read how, throughout his long career, Clemente Figuera received commissions from various governments to do projects of great importance in establishing the economic activities in the Canary Islands and Catalonia. With all this information in my hand, I stood thoughtfully: What necessity had a respected engineer to become inventor and to run the risk of being labeled, at least, as fantasist? Most striking of all it was that his role as inventor was, apparently, something that he carried in the most absolute secrecy, unveiling that part of his life only when he set out to apply for patents and, even then, he decided to pass as unnoticed as possible.
Adventures in the Patent Office
It was time to figure out how the Figuera machine should work. The search results were again surprising because it did not resemble anything I had previously imagined. The first logical step was to find out if it really existed patents whose ownership could be attributed to Clement Figuera. The search soon offered results. Here are all their patents according to the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office. I have divided them into two groups with a very personal notation, depending on the place of residence of the applicant at the time the proceedings were issued. We can say that about Pedro Blasberge, who appears as co-author in some of the patents, I just managed to find out little information, only that he worked as director of a gas plant in Las Palmas:
Patents filed while living in Canary Island (1902)
• Patent number: 30375. Title: A process for obtaining electrical currents entirely the same as those given by current dynamos. Date of application: 09/20/1902. Applicant: Figuera Urtáiz, Clemente / Blasberge, Pedro.
• Patent number: 30376. Title: Machine no needing motive power which produces electrical currents applicable to all uses. Date of application: 09/20/1902. Applicant: Figuera Urtáiz , Clemente / Blasberge, Pedro.
• Patent number: 30377. Title: A new method to obtain electrical currents without using motive power, neither batteries or accumulators nor other similar means. Date of application: 09/20/1902. Applicant: Figuera Urtáiz, Clemente / Blasberge, Pedro.
• Patent number: 30378. Title: An electrical generator. Date of application: 09/20/1902. Applicant: Figuera Urtáiz, Clemente / Blasberge, Pedro.
Patent filed while living in Barcelona (1908)
• Patent number: 44267. Title: A new electricity generator called “Figuera”.
Date of application: 10/31/1908. Date of granting: 11/16/1908. Applicant: Figuera Urtáiz, Clemente.
After revising carefully the list but it did not take more than a few minutes to ask the Patent Office for a copy of all of them. Unfortunately, I was informed that all of them were damaged, apparently, by the humidity of an ancient flood which affected the files. They were barely able to give me a copy, with some damage, of patents 30375 and 44267, that is, the first and last of the series. There you can read how Figuera approach is very original and has nothing to do with extracting energy from the atmosphere. Moreover, after having discussed the case with a few engineers, although we agree that possibly it will not be able to run, it bears some intriguing aspect because, at the time these patents were published, was requested to provide a complete operative model which was revised deeply before being accepted as patent application. Knowing the reputation of Figuera, I had in my mind the question: Did really Figuera find a technology that was hardly interesting? The time limitation to check the remaining patents make me keep the doubt, because I am unaware of what it might contain other documents damaged. In the two patents can be seen how ingeniously and by mechanical methods, the engineer tried to generate electrical energy inside a coil by varying the flow of two opposite and opposing magnetic fields, trying to get into the machine the same characteristic behavior of a conventional generator, but without moving parts. I don´t doubt that in the coil induced currents are generated, as he thought, but to pretend that more energy is generated in the coil or set of coils, which is needed to generate the inductive fields, even if they vary over time very rapidly, is an illusion. However, as a curious experiment, those who dare to try something really see that it is easy to implement, you can always learn something from a setup like this. Today it is easier than in times of Figuera, because it can be used electronic components, not mechanical. Below I attach a transcription of the two patents I could get.
ANNEX – TRANSCRIPT OF TWO PATENTS OF CLEMENTE FIGUERA
CLEMENTE FIGUERA PATENT (1902) No. 30375 (SPAIN)
NEW PROCEDURE FOR OBTAINING ELECTRICAL CURRENTS IN GENERAL AND APPLICABLE TO INDUSTRIAL USES
All systems adopted, until the present, to produce electric currents, are based on the well-known principle that, when a core of soft iron which approach or moves away from a magnet is magnetized and demagnetized do appear induced current in any copper wire which is coiled in said core. This is the fundamental principle of the Clarke machine, of the company “The Alliance”, and the current dynamos, which, like all others, are machines to transform mechanical force into electricity. In all of them, the magnetizations and successive demagnetizations of the core or cores is achieved approaching and moving away these permanent magnets or electromagnets, called excitatory.
Those who sign, have devised a new method or process for producing magnetic changes in the core, and this procedure consists of making intermittent or alternating the current which drives the excitatory electromagnets, in which case neither the nuclei, nor the induced circuit need to be moved at all.
The whole question comes down to change the state of magnetization of the cores, so that electrical currents could appear in the induced wire. Until now, this result is achieved by making the core or cores approaching or moving from the magnetic centers created by the excitatory electromagnets. We, through an intermittent or alternating electric current achieve a variation in the magnetic state of the cores of the excitatory electromagnets, and also changing, the magnetic state of the cores on which the induced circuit is coiled, where electric currents appear ready to be industrially exploited.
As the soft iron core of a dynamo becomes a real magnet from the time when current flow along the wire of the induced circuit, we think that this core must be formed or constituted by a group of real electromagnets, properly built to develop the highest possible attractive force, and without taking into account the conditions to be fitted in the induced circuit, which is completely independent of the core.
The procedure is thus reduced to establish an independent induced circuit, within the sphere of action or magnetic atmosphere formed between the magnetic pole faces, of opposite name, of two electromagnets, or series of electromagnets driven by intermittent or alternating currents.
In the current dynamos, the coils of the induced circuit cut the force lines which go from the faces of the excitatory electromagnets to the core; in our procedure, the same lines of force, which are born and die cross through the coils on the induced.
The novelty of our procedure is as follows:
In that, you do not need to use any driving force, since the machines built according to these principles will not act as transformers of work into electricity.
In that, until the present, none has tried to change, at industrial scale, from zero, the magnetic power of the excitatory magnets or electromagnets of a running machine.
Note: for which the patent is filed: Procedure to achieve electric currents, establishing a motionless and independent induced circuit, within the sphere of action or magnetic atmosphere formed between the magnetic pole faces of two excitatory electromagnets, or series of motionless electromagnets, powered by intermittent or alternate currents.
Madrid, the 2nd of September, 1902. Signed: Clemente Figuera.
PATENT by CLEMENTE FIGUERA (year 1908) No. 44267 (Spain)
Ministry of Development General Board of agriculture, industry and Commerce. Patents of Invention. Expired. Dossier number 44267. Instruction at the request of D. Clemente Figuera. Representative Mr. Buforn. Presented in the register of the Ministry in the 31st of october of 1908, at 11:55 received in the negotiated in the 2nd of november of 1908.
ELECTRICAL GENERATOR “FIGUERA”
if within a spinning magnetic field we rotate a closed circuit placed at right angles to the lines of force a current will be induced for as long as there is movement , and whose sign will depend on the direction in which the induced circuit moves.
This is the foundation of all magnetic machines and electric dynamos from the primitive, invented by Pixii, France and modified and improved later by Clarke until the current dynamos of today.
The principle where is based this theory, carries the unavoidable need for the movement of the induced circuit or the inductor circuit, and therefore these machines are taken as transformer of mechanical work into electricity.
PRINCIPLE OF THE INVENTION
Watching closely what happens in a Dynamo in motion, is that the turns of the induced circuit approaches and moves away from the magnetic centers of the inductor magnet or electromagnets, and those turns, while spinning, go through sections of the magnetic field of different power, because, while this has its maximum attraction in the center of the core of each electromagnet, this action will weaken as the induced is separated from the center of the electromagnet, to increase again, when the induced is approaching the center of another electromagnet with opposite sign to the first one.
Because we all know that the effects that are manifested when a closed circuit approaches and moves away from a magnetic center are the same as when, this circuit being still and motionless, the magnetic field is increased and reduced in intensity; since any variation , occurring in the flow traversing a circuit is producing electrical induced current .It was considered the possibility of building a machine that would work, not in the principle of movement, as do the current dynamos, but using the principle of increase and decrease, this is the variation of the power of the magnetic field, or the electrical current which produces it.
The voltage from the total current of the current dynamos is the sum of partial induced currents born in each one of the turns of the induced. Therefore it matters little to these induced currents if they were obtained by the turning of the induced, or by the variation of the magnetic flux that runs through them; but in the first case, a greater source of mechanical work than obtained electricity is required, and in the second case, the force necessary to achieve the variation of flux is so insignificant that it can be derived without any inconvenience, from the one supplied by the machine.
Until the present no machine based on this principle has been applied yet to the production of large electrical currents, and which among other advantages, has suppressed any necessity for motion and therefore the force needed to produce it.
In order to privilege the application to the production of large industrial electrical currents, on the principle that says that “there is production of induced electrical current provided that you change in any way the flow of force through the induced circuit,” seems that it is enough with the previously exposed; however, as this application need to materialize in a machine, there is need to describe it in order to see how to carry out a practical application of said principle.
This principle is not new since it is just a consequence of the laws of induction stated by Faraday in the year 1831: what it is new and requested to privilege is the application of this principle to a machine which produces large industrial electrical currents which until now cannot be obtained but transforming mechanical work into electricity.
Let’s therefore make the description of a machine based on the prior principle which is being privileged; but it must be noted, and what is sought is the patent for the application of this principle, that all machines built based on this principle, will be included in the scope of this patent, whatever the form and way that has been used to make the application.
DESCRIPTION OF GENERATOR OF VARIABLE EXCITACION “FIGUERA”
The machine comprise a fixed inductor circuit, consisting of several electromagnets with soft iron cores exercising induction in the induced circuit, also fixed and motionless, composed of several reels or coils, properly placed. As neither of the two circuits spin, there is no need to make them round, nor leave any space between one and the other.
Here what it is constantly changing is the intensity of the excitatory current which drives the electromagnets and this is accomplished using a resistance, through which circulates a proper current, which is taken from one foreign origin into one or more electromagnets, magnetize one or more electromagnets and, while the current is higher or lower the magnetization of the electromagnets is decreasing or increasing and varying, therefore, the intensity of the magnetic field , this is, the flow which crosses the induced circuit.
To fix ideas is convenient to refer to the attached drawing which is no more than a sketch to understand the operation of the machine built using the principle outlined before.
Suppose that electromagnets are represented by rectangles N and S. Between their poles is located the induced circuit represented by the line “y” (small). Let be “R” a resistance that is drawn in an elementary manner to facilitate the comprehension of the entire system, and “+” and “-” the excitatory current which is taken from an external and foreigner generator. The different pieces of the resistance will connect, as seen in the drawing, with the commutator bars embedded in a cylinder of insulating material that does not move; but around it, and always in contact with more than one contact, rotates a brush “O”, which carries the foreign current, revolves. One of the ends of the resistance is connected with electromagnets N, and the other with electromagnets S, half of the terminals of the resistance pieces go to the half of the commutator bars of the cylinder and the other half of these commutator bars are directly connected to the firsts.
The operation of the machine is as follows: it has been said that the brush “O” rotates around the cylinder “G” and always in contact with two of their contacts. When the brush is in touch with contact “1″ the current, which comes from the external generator and passes through the brush and contact “1″, will magnetize electromagnets N to the maximum but will not magnetize the electromagnets S because the whole resistance prevents it. Therefore, first electromagnets are full of current and the second ones are empty. When the brush is in touch with contact “2″ the current won’t entirely go to electromagnets N because it has to pass through part of the resistance; In contrast, some current goes to the electrodes S because it has to overcome less resistance than in the previous case. This same reasoning is applicable to the case in which the brush “O” closes the circuit in each of the different contact until finished those in a semicircle, and begins to operate in the other half, which are directly connected to each other. In short, the resistance makes the function of a splitter of current because those current not going to excite some electromagnets excites others and so on; it can be said that electrodes N and S works simultaneously and in opposite way because while the first ones are filling up with current, the seconds are emptying and while repeating this effect continuously and orderly a constant variation of the magnetic fields within which is placed the induced circuit can be maintained, without any more complications than the turning of a brush or group of brushes that move circularly around the cylinder “G” powered by the action of a small electrical motor.
As seen in the drawing the current, once that has made its function, returns to the generator where taken; naturally in every revolution of the brush will be a change of sign in the induced current; but a switch will do it continuous if wanted. From this current is derived a small part to excite the machine converting it in self-exciting and to operate the small motor which moves the brush and the switch; the external current supply, this is the feeding current, is removed and the machine continue working without any help indefinitely.
The invention is really new; very daring and above all has huge technical and industrial consequences under all sights, we didn’t ask for privilege of invention until having a machine working based on these principles which gives the practical realization without which these claims will be useless.
ADVANTAGES OF THE ELECTRICAL GENERATOR “FIGUERA”
First. Give completely for free, electrical currents continuous or alternate of any voltage and applicable to:
1. Production of driving force.
2 Production of light.
3 Production of heat.
4. All the previous uses.
Second. No need whatsoever of driving force of any kind nor chemical reactions nor fuel.
Third. Does not need lubrication, only in small amounts.
Fourth. Be so Simple that vigilance that can be overlooked.
Fifth. Does not produce smoke, noise, nor vibration in its operation.
Sixth. Indefinite operational life.
Seventh. Apply to all uses, home management and industrial.
Eighth. Easy of construction.
Ninth. Cheap to produce in the market
The applied patent for 20 years is requested upon a “NEW GENERATOR OF ELECTRICITY, so-called “FIGUERA” of variable excitation, designed to produce electrical currents for industrial applications without using neither driving force, nor chemical reactions. The machine is essentially characterized by two series of electromagnets which form the inductor circuit, between whose poles the reels of the induced are properly placed. Both circuits, remaining motionless, induced and inductor, are able to produce a current induced by the constant variation of the intensity of the magnetic field forcing the excitatory current (coming at first from any external source) to pass through a rotating brush which, in its rotation movement, is placed in communication with the commutator bars or contacts of a ring distributor or cylinder whose contacts are in communication with a resistance whose value varies from a maximum to a minimum and vice versa, according with the commutator bars of the cylinder which operates, and for that reason the resistance is connected to the electromagnets N by one of its side, and the electromagnets S at the other side, in such a way that the excitatory current will be magnetizing successively with more or less strength to the first electromagnets, while, oppositely, will be decreasing or increasing the magnetization in the second ones, determining these variations in intensity of the magnetic field, the production of the current in the induced, current that we can use for any work for the most part, and of which only one small fraction is derived for the actuation of a small electrical motor which make rotate the brush, and another fraction goes to the continuous excitation of the electromagnets, and, therefore, converting the machine in self-exciting, being able to suppress the external power which was used at first to excite the electromagnets. Once the machinery is in motion, no new force is required and the machine will continue in operation indefinitely.
All in accordance with the described and detailed in this report and as represented in the drawings which are attached.
Barcelona, the 30th of October, 1908. Signed: Constantino de Buforn.
Update May 2013.
Since I published this article, I had access to new documents and information about Clemente Figuera. There will be time later to write a new report detailing all this. It is fine for now to say that, Constantino de Buforn (who was an economical partner of Clemente Figuera) had obtained several patents on the Figuera´s device shortly after his death. These patents, which I have consulted with interest in the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office, do not really provide anything which was not already included in the latest patents of Figuera. For information, it is patent 47706, 50216, 52968, 55411 and 57955, filed between 1910 and 1914.
- Test of practical implementation patent 1910. (PDF) (Español/English).
- Clemente Figuera patent 30378 (1902) (PDF) (Español/English).
- Clemente Figuera patent 30377 (1902) (PDF) (Español/English).
- Clemente Figuera patent 30376 (1902) (PDF) (Español/English).
- Clemente Figuera patent 30375 (1902) (PDF) (Español/English).
- Clemente Figuera patent 44267, year 1908 (PDF) (Español/English).
- Newspaper report, 9 jun 1902, Chicago Tribune. (Gif) (English).
- La Región Canaria, Press Clipping, 24 sep 1902. (PDF) (Español/English).
- Newspaper report. (PDF) (Español/English).
- Newspaper report II. (PDF) (Español).
- Letters (1902). (PDF) (Español/English).
- Interview to Clemente Figuera, 1902. (PDF) (Español/English).
- Buforn patents (1910-1914) (PDF en español).
- Buforn patent 57955 english translation (PDF).
Telegrama / Telegram Figuera 1902.
Dibujo de la patente de 1908 / Drawing 1908 patent.