James Francis made an important contribution to energy history when he designed the Francis water turbine. He was born in England in 1815 and came to the United States in 1833 when he was eighteen years old. He gained experience in the water infrastructure industry when he got a job with the Locks and Canal Company in Massachusetts. He became chief engineer of this company in 1837. During his career, Francis was interested in improving the design of hydraulic systems. He achieved success and made an important contribution to the way that humans harness energy when he developed the Francis turbine. This water turbine utilized the basic design of the turbine, a device that directed water in an outward flow, causing it to spin. The Francis turbine operated in a similar fashion, but it harnessed more energy from falling water by using water pressure changes to spin the turbine faster. In an ideal installation, the turbine was placed in an area where water under high pressure entered the turbine and was released into a low pressure environment; hence the pressure change helped extract useable energy from falling water. The design converted potential energy in water to mechanical energy with 90 percent efficiency. It also allowed for efficient operation in a range of water flow conditions. Because of these aspects, the Francis turbine is the most widely used design for water turbines in the world. It is a significant contribution to energy use, as hydropower accounts for approximately 20 percent of electricity generation worldwide. Francis is also notable as a founder of the American Society for Civil Engineers in 1880. He died on September 18, 1892.
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