You by no means know who’s gonna be the one with the massive thought. Historical past

The Red Tea Detox

Has proven it isn’t essentially the individual with essentially the most spectacular credentials.

A breakthrough can come from the least anticipated, maybe like

An 81-year-old eccentric from Massachusetts who toiled in isolation with no monetary assist for greater than a decade.

His focus? A problem that has stumped scientists for a few years – how one can rework inedible flora into environmentally pleasant transportation fuels in a clear and cost-effective means.

Marshall Medoff with correspondent Lesley Stahl

This unlikely inventor calls himself messianic, as within the messiah. And likes to say, matter-of-factly, that he’s “saving the world.”

Lesley Stahl: And that is what you assume?

Marshall Medoff: Sure.

Lesley Stahl: You assume, “I am saving the world.”

Marshall Medoff: I do not assume. I do not assume, I do know that.

Who says issues like that? Marshall Medoff does. He is a person on a mission who determined sooner or later that he was going cease world warming.

“What I believed was, the explanation folks have been failing is that they have been making an attempt to beat nature as an alternative of working with it.”

Marshall Medoff: Once I realized what was happening right here, I mentioned, ‘That is an emergency.’ We gotta discover new sources. We have gotta discover new methods of saving the universe when it comes to world warming and so forth and so forth.

Lesley Stahl: What was your science schooling?

Marshall Medoff: Zero.

Lesley Stahl: So, no diploma in chemistry?

Marshall Medoff: Oh, after all not. I did not have any diploma in chemistry.

Lesley Stahl: What’s your IQ?

Marshall Medoff: I don’t know about IQs.

Medoff has been referred to as a genius, 25 years in the past, he turned obsessive about the surroundings and determined to desert his enterprise profession and turn into an newbie scientist.

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Medoff at Walden Pond

However whereas engineers, geologists and ecologists with Ph.D.s went to labs at MIT and Stanford, Medoff went to one of many nation’s most legendary settings for reflection.  

Marshall Medoff: I used to expire to– Walden, which wasn’t that far-off.

Lesley Stahl: You imply Walden Pond?

Marshall Medoff: Yeah.

Lesley Stahl: Thoreau?

Marshall Medoff: Yeah.

Lesley Stahl: Okay.

Marshall Medoff: What I believed was, the explanation folks have been failing is that they have been making an attempt to beat nature as an alternative of working with it.

He knew that there is a variety of vitality in flora. It is within the type of sugar molecules that when accessed may be transformed into transportation gasoline. The important thing phrase is “entry.” This sugar is almost unimaginable to extract cheaply and cleanly since it’s locked tightly contained in the plant’s cellulose, the principle a part of a plant’s mobile partitions. What’s so tantalizing is that sugar-rich cellulose is essentially the most plentiful organic materials on earth.

Marshall Medoff: Cellulose is in all places. I imply, there’s simply a lot cellulose on the earth and no person had managed to make use of any of it. Could not get at it.

Lesley Stahl: In order that was your goal.

Marshall Medoff: That was my goal. So, as soon as I made a decision to do this, I mentioned, “Wow, if I can break by this, we will enhance the sources of the world perhaps by a 3rd or extra.” Who is aware of?

To determine how one can break by cellulose to get on the sugars, Marshall Medoff did one thing that almost all of us would not dream of: he buried himself away in seclusion for greater than 15 years in a storage at a storage facility in the midst of nowhere.

Marshall Medoff: I did not have a cellphone there. No person may disturb me. And I might have a pile of papers that I had collected and I began studying them.

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Lesley Stahl: The concept that you might clear up this massive problem–

Marshall Medoff: I do know. Yeah.

Lesley Stahl: –no science background.

Marshall Medoff: Yeah. I used to be– apparently I should have had an excellent mom who– who, uh, breastfed me an additional few months or one thing as a result of I had a variety of safety about the truth that I might get it performed. And I by no means had any doubts.

Lesley Stahl: What about your personal life?

Marshall Medoff: No, I– I needed to give that up.

Lesley Stahl: You gave up your personal life?

Marshall Medoff: Yeah, after all.  As a result of I did not see anyone from 9 within the morning until 9 at night time or later.

Craig Masterman

Alone within the storage, Medoff began churning out concepts and patenting them. So many, he wanted assist.

Craig Masterman: Bins piled to the ceiling?

Lesley Stahl: Bins? And?

Craig Masterman: Uh, I used to be shocked.

Lesley Stahl: The best way the place seemed.

Craig Masterman: Proper.

Craig Masterman was Marshall Medoff’s first rent 10 years in the past. He is an MIT graduate in chemistry.

Craig Masterman: He employed me to construct a lab.

Lesley Stahl: So he employed you to assist enhance what he was pondering in his head?

Craig Masterman: That is right. However I implement issues. He thinks lots, I implement a variety of issues.

A take a look at the accelerators

What Masterman helped implement was Medoff’s novel thought of utilizing these massive blue machines referred to as electron accelerators to interrupt aside nature’s chokehold on the dear sugars inside flora – or biomass. Machines like these are usually used to strengthen supplies reminiscent of wiring and cable. Medoff’s invention was to make use of the accelerator the other means – to interrupt biomass aside.

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Lesley Stahl: Possibly you’ll be able to inform us how the electron accelerator works.

Craig Masterman: It is fairly easy. It is mainly accelerated electrical energy. And so what occurs is is that they get accelerated–

Lesley Stahl: Downward.

Craig Masterman: Downward the place the biomass is, and so they ram into the biomass and rip it aside.

Lesley Stahl: It does not sound that extraordinary once you hear it besides— nobody else had considered it.

Craig Masterman: I believe, I believe implausible stuff is straightforward in hindsight.

Lesley Stahl: And not one of the massive scientists who have been working around the clock to determine how one can get the sugars out–

Craig Masterman: No, they have been all messing with issues like sulfuric acid and steam explosion and loopy stuff like that, which could be very costly, all that stuff is pricey. Electron beams are cheap.

His ingenious use of the accelerators caught the eye of buyers who noticed a possible goldmine within the know-how.They gave Medoff’s firm – Xyleco – a whole lot of thousands and thousands of {dollars}, permitting him to scale up and construct this manufacturing unit – in Moses Lake, Washington – so he may flip his invention into actuality. It is scheduled to be totally operational this spring.

Right here, agricultural residue, like these corn cobs, is trucked in from close by farms, floor up, blasted by the electron accelerator after which mixed with a proprietary enzyme combine.

This course of, Medoff’s exceptional invention, releases plant sugars that he is now utilizing to make merchandise he claims will clear up among the world’s most intractable issues, affecting not simply the surroundings but in addition our well being. One of many plant sugars known as xylose and Medoff says it may scale back weight problems and diabetes, since it’s consumable, and low in energy.


Craig Masterman: Xylose known as wooden sugar And it has an uncommon property that your oral micro organism can not use it. So it will not decay your tooth.

Lesley Stahl: Sugar that does not decay your tooth?

Craig Masterman: Sure.

Lesley Stahl: Hallelujah, (chuckle) you recognize?

Marshall Medoff: It is more healthy sugar. It does not do the identical issues to you.

Lesley Stahl: So, you might drink all of the Coke. You do not have to drink Food regimen Coke anymore.

Marshall Medoff: No.

Lesley Stahl: And it could style the identical?

Marshall Medoff: Yeah. In fact it tastes the identical. It tastes– tastes like actual sugar.

So I attempted it myself. “Belief however confirm.”

Lesley Stahl: If I did that I would not die.

Angeles Dios: No, you would not die. It is simply candy. I imply, it is simply…

Lesley Stahl: Oh, very candy. Very candy.

Marshall Medoff: It is getting a bit of crowded in right here Craig.

With the investor funds, Medoff additionally opened a $45 million testing facility in Wakefield, Massachusetts, a far cry from the storage. And he employed greater than 70 scientists and engineers who’ve provide you with a sugar-based product aimed toward one other impervious downside, some name it a plague, the buildup of plastic particles.

Lesley Stahl: You may have mentioned that plastic ought to be outlawed.

Marshall Medoff: Sure, the plastics which are getting used ought to be as a result of all they’re doing is accumulating. And there is an infinite quantity of ocean that is being despoiled.

Lesley Stahl: However in the event you take a plastic bag or a plastic bottle of Food regimen Pepsi or no matter and throw it away, it may very well be there for 500 years.

Marshall Medoff: Extra.


Most plastics are made out of petroleum. Medoff makes plastic from crops. It appeared to us that his product was onerous to differentiate from common plastic besides in a single key means. Chemical engineer David Jablonski says that Xyleco’s bio-plastic invention may be programmed to disintegrate over particular time spans, starting from years to as rapidly as 11 weeks.

David Jablonski: You possibly can simply take this and you could find that is very degraded.

Lesley Stahl: Oh. It is falling aside. So in 11 weeks, it’s– it is already on its option to disintegrating?

David Jablonski: That’s right.

Maybe Medoff’s most consequential discovery is how one can extract the plant sugars and convert them into to environmentally-friendly biofuels: ethanol, gasoline and jet gasoline.

Lesley Stahl: And I am advised that you just name this factor a nonetheless.

Marshall Medoff: It’s a nonetheless.

Lesley Stahl: It’s a nonetheless?

Marshall Medoff: It is really making alcohol proper now. Alcohol that you may drink, or you’ll be able to put in your automobile, or you are able to do each.

Marshall Medoff: Right here we’re, on the highway once more.

Lesley Stahl: So Marshall, I’m driving an enormous truck on biomass gasoline. It does not really feel any completely different than regular fuel to me.

Marshall Medoff: No. It would not. No.

Medoff’s ethanol is a lot better than common corn ethanol when it comes to greenhouse fuel emissions – 77 p.c higher, based on a research that was independently reviewed.

Marshall Medoff: Yeah, it is a very Einsteinian resolution.

Lesley Stahl: Einsteinian, actually? Like Einstein?

Marshall Medoff: Yeah, yeah.

Bob Armstrong: I used to be first a bit of bit skeptical. It appeared nearly too good to be true.

Lesley Stahl: And also you had by no means heard of him, I am certain of that.

Bob Armstrong: I had not heard of him.

Robert Armstrong, the previous head of MIT’s chemical engineering division, joined Xyleco’s board of administrators after Medoff advised him concerning the electron beam accelerator, his ingenious means of breaking down biomass.

Bob Armstrong: The electron beam is actually a sport changer.

Lesley Stahl: I used to be advised that it is the Holy Grail, gaining access to the sugars.

Bob Armstrong: Folks at MIT are engaged on it, folks within the nationwide labs  however no person’s gotten it performed but.

Lesley Stahl: Has Xyleco performed it?

Bob Armstrong: Xyleco has performed it.

Marshall Medoff: Yeah, he knew I did it, yeah. In fact, MIT could not get it performed.  

He is proper about that. He outsmarted MIT and now he is lured some fairly highly effective males to his board of administrators, together with former Shell Oil government Sir John Jennings, and three former cupboard secretaries – Steve Chu of the Division of Vitality, George Shultz, former secretary of state and former protection secretary, William Perry.

Invoice Perry: Effectively, I believed he was one other Thomas Edison.

Lesley Stahl: One other Thomas Edison?

Invoice Perry: One other Thomas Edison. A genius, A really eccentric genius, however a genius who had provide you with this completely revolutionary thought.

Dr. Steven Chu: He positively is a personality. I come from a world of characters (LAUGHTER) in my scientific world.

Lesley Stahl: However he is not a scientist.

Dr. Steven Chu: However he has all of the attributes to many profitable scientists. You need to consider in your self. You need to say, “That is going to work.”

Lesley Stahl: Is there sufficient biomass to produce sufficient of this ethanol and gasoline on the earth?

Dr. Steven Chu: It may well make a major dent.

A attainable 30 p.c dent within the petroleum market, based on a report by the Division of Vitality. However the query is: can Marshall Medoff scale up his operation sufficient to compete with the oil trade?

Invoice Perry: What’s doubtful in my thoughts is how lengthy it is gonna take breaking into these enormous industrial markets, established markets, with established corporations. That is gonna be a giant endeavor.

John Jennings: It will not flip off oil and fuel in a single day, clearly. It will not flip off coal. It will not flip off nuclear. It will not flip off all the opposite sources of vitality. However it’s going to discover its place. And I believe it’s going to discover it comparatively rapidly due to all of the containers that it ticks.

A kind of containers is that Xyleco’s fuels may very well be simply dropped into the pumps at current fuel stations.  

Marshall Medoff: You would not have to vary something.

Lesley Stahl: I can simply put it proper in my car–

Marshall Medoff: Identical to we did–

Lesley Stahl: Precisely.

Marshall Medoff: –with the truck.

Lesley Stahl: And– and likewise go proper as much as the pump and get–

Marshall Medoff: Precisely.

Lesley Stahl: It the identical means?

Marshall Medoff: Precisely.

Transportation fuels which are clean-green, plastic that disintegrates, sugar that does not rot your tooth. It is onerous to consider, nevertheless it all flowed from the thoughts of essentially the most unlikely of newbie scientists, who was impressed not by any educational laboratory, however by his owns musings at walden pond.

Produced by Sarah Koch and Chrissy Jones


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