Augustin Mouchot gazed into the distance, as the horses slowly pulled the coach carrying him. It was a rainy morning, and miners came and went through the The production of towns not very different from this one had ruined his life's work, and hindered him for decades. He was still bitter over it... but he could spot a silver lining on it: on the roofs of almost every housing unit, one of his water heaters was installed. Here, in the very heart of a coal zone, his inventions were being used.
And used they were, even in a rainy day. They could produce lukewarm water, which was still better than the cold water they would otherwise use.
So there was hope. One day, he might return to France with his vision vindicated, and the power of the sun harnessed for all to use.
But in the present, he had business to attend. He was heading towards the Cousiño Palace, a place that rivalled in luxury any building in Paris, even if it was still under construction. Isidora Goyenechea awaited him, to discuss the developments going on in the Atacama desert. There was so much to go through... the approaches by the Chilean Government to assist in the exploitation of copper deposits, the new designs of solar ovens for food processes, the increase in production of water heaters to meet the demand from Santiago and other cities.
And, most importantly, the discovery of air liquification via Stirling cooling. Mouchot had spent 72 hours awake after watching that phenomenon, writing down every idea that he could think of, knowing full well that if he didn't it would be years before they revisited him. It took him the better part of a month to turn those incoherent ramblings of a madman into something that could be understood by people, but he was still proud that most of those ideas were viable.
The coach stopped in front of the palace. Pleasentries were exchanged, hands were shaken and, at last, Isidora Goyenechea and him were alone to talk about business. She sat in front of him, still in her stark black, across a large desk of solid ebony.
"Madame Goyenechea, I think that me and my team have stumbled upon something that might be revolutionary. It wasn't something that we were searching for, and it wasn't even a theory I had considered. In fact, if it wasn't for a watchful worker, it might have gone unnoticed."
"You must be referring to that talk about liquid air, aren't you? Mr. Serrano already told me about that discovery and that he was worried about you."
"Not exactly. I mean, air liquification will be an industry gamechanger once we can reliably produce and store it. Like any liquid, it can be separated into its components by different processes. Nitrogen or Argon could help keep produce and meat fresh for long-range trips, oxygen could allow fuels to burn brighter and cleaner, and even other gasses might be exploited. Carbon Dioxide, which represents about 350 parts per million of the atmosphere, could be used to make a substance called "dry ice" as well, which can then be stored and used to cool objects and spaces."
"At 350 parts per million? Would that be an efficient use of resources? Wouldn't it take a lot of air to produce any useable amount?"
"Indeed. And, bar some change in the atmosphere, it will remain so for the forseable future. It was just an example, although the most feasible given the current state of the art. Carbon Dioxide 'freezes' at a temperature closer to normal conditions than other gases. It's the only gas that we can reliably and store and extract."
"Just how cold are we talking here? Mr. Serrano didn't specify in the correspondence, other than it could liquify air. Around -50 °C?"
"It's closer to -195 °C, actually." Mouchot answered, knowing that that would impress Madame Goyenechea.
"How is that even possible?"
"Well, it's one of the properties of the Stirling Engine. Unlike a steam engine, the process is rev-""
"That was rethorical, Docteur Mouchot. I won't pretend to understand the processes behind your discoveries, with the basics I can work. You were saying that reaching these temperatures prove difficult? What about lower temperatures? Could they be used to reach, say, -100 °C or -75 °C?"
"Those are higher temperatures, Madame Goyenechea... "
"Oh, right. Negative numbers... a bit inconvenient."
"We could use the absolute scale developed by Lord Kelvin, if it would help." By the way she was looking, it wouldn't. "... or we could just keep this conversation on a need-to-know basis. Answering your questions, the main difficulty of producing liquid air is that, while we can reach them without difficulty, staying there is more difficult. The materials on the Stirling Engine become very brittle and fragile, cracking or grinding themselves into scrap. Metallurgy isn't quite where we need it to be to operate these machines... although we can see it from here. With dedicated research, I think that we could have a steel alloy suitable for that kind of work within two or three years. Storage is another problem. One that can be tackled with brute force, thankfully. I've designed a clay vessel that could store liquid air for a few hours before evaporating. It's bulky, though."
"What about higher temperatures, like the ones I've asked?"
"Those are significantly easier to reach and use. In Almonte we're developing a cooling unit that can cool a medium sized building. It can cool air down to -75 °C, which is then forced through a piping system to exchange heat. It still in a very primitive stage, but it can operate continuously and lower temperatures by up to 5 °C. We could have a viable commercial unit within a year."
"Hmm..." Isidora Goyenechea let slip. She was good at keeping things porfessional, but that sigh betrayed an idea forming in her mind.
"Could we integrate these cooling units with our heaters? The process needs a source of concentrated heat, right?"
"Indeed. I hadn't thought about it, but both systems could be integrated quite easily and perhaps even cheaper than building two separate systems." Mouchot said. "... it's actually quite a smart idea!"
"Thank you, Docteur Mouchot. I'm sure these devices could also be used for industrial refrigeration? Do they scale well?"
"In my estimate, they scale linearly. An array of them could provide enough cold to run an industrial freezer, although I don't know if they could be competitive with other processes in development. They're viable, at he very least."
"This could be very profitable for us, Docteur. Can the Franco-Chilena develop a viable unit for next year?"
"Well, me and my team are already stretched thin. Between the solar collectors for motive power and heat, the domestic and light industrial heat developments and this newer avenue of research, we would need 72 hour days to keep up with the pace."
"And you'll need more educated talent, right? People that could help with that?"
"Indeed. Running the numbers, Monsieur Serrano estimates that we could sustain ten good engineers from Europe or the United States working on development, plus the resources needed to do that research. What we can't afford, however, is the research for cold-resistant materials. I've been thinking about installing a metallurgical laboratory in Almonte, which should allow us to develop the necessary alloys for viable liquid air production. Those are resources beyond the scope of what the Franco Chilena can provide in the short term."
"Granted." Isidora Goyenechea said in a confident tone. "The only condition is that I'll have a 40% stake on any and all patents and profits obtained from it."
Mouchot was shocked by the answer. He expected a round of negotiation, a back and forth that would lower his initial demands. Instead, Isidora Goyenechea just accepted the request for money, then and there.
"Madame Goyenechea... are you sure you want to accept so quickly? haven't you considered the viability of the project?"
"I haven't, but my acceptance doesn't come out of a whim, Docteur. You're not the only one doing research on solar energy." - She produced a folder from her desk. Out of it came a notebook and several notes and papers. "I could handle these to you, but I'm sure you've seen my little experiment going on in Lota."
"Come again? I am not sure if I follow."
"Oh, I meant your water heating devices. Did you think I bought them just out of the kindness of my heart? I love my workers and I strive to make their lives better, but I didn't spend a significant amount on them out of charity: For the past year or so I've been measuring the production and consumption of hot water... both on your solar collectors and on coal boilers... and the numbers are up."
"And what do those numbers show?"
"Between the two of us and these walls? That one day - perhaps soon - coal won't be able to compete with solar energy. Boiling water is cheaper on your devices than with coal, and the water remains warm and even hot through the night. Only on rainy days does coal remain viable... but those are a minority. I have no doubts that scale only favours solar over coal even more. And the genie is out of the bottle, if my informants in Europe are any indication: the British are also developing their own solar boilers. Now is the time to get in and make a fortune. Or keep one."
Mouchot, being a man of science, perused through the documents. And what he read brought tears to his eyes. At last, at the very last, his ideas had been vindicated.
The lack of what is now called "Advanced Human Capital" and developed infrastructure in late 19th Chile proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Compañía Franco-Chilena de Energía Solar. It forced the nascent company to deepen its links with Isidora Goyenechea, which in turn provided nearly limitless funds for Augustin Mouchot's research and development. In fact, studies on the early accounting reports of the Franco-Chilena suggest that they would have to wait at least a decade before reaching the profit levels needed to sustain the scale of research for the more arcane technologies envisioned by Mouchot.
Isidora Goyenechea, therefore, is arguably the key figure behind the Third Industrial Revolution that came into full force by the turn of the century. Her financial backing, and her keen eye for business helped to materialize Mouchot's vision and channel it towards immediate practical applications.