You by no means know who’s gonna be the one with the large 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 help for greater than a decade.

His focus? A problem that has stumped scientists for a few years – learn how to rework inedible vegetation into environmentally pleasant transportation fuels in a clear and cost-effective manner.

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 international warming.

“What I believed was, the explanation individuals had been failing is that they had been making an attempt to beat nature as a substitute of working with it.”

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

Lesley Stahl: What was your science training?

Marshall Medoff: Zero.

Lesley Stahl: So, no diploma in chemistry?

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

Lesley Stahl: What’s your IQ?

Marshall Medoff: I do not know about IQs.

Medoff has been known as a genius, 25 years in the past, he grew to become obsessive about the atmosphere and determined to desert his enterprise profession and develop into an beginner 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 individuals had been failing is that they had been making an attempt to beat nature as a substitute of working with it.

He knew that there is quite a lot of vitality in vegetation. It is within the type of sugar molecules that after accessed might be transformed into transportation gas. The important thing phrase is “entry.” This sugar is sort of unimaginable to extract cheaply and cleanly since it’s locked tightly contained in the plant’s cellulose, the primary a part of a plant’s mobile partitions. What’s so tantalizing is that sugar-rich cellulose is essentially the most considerable organic materials on earth.

Marshall Medoff: Cellulose is in all places. I imply, there’s simply a lot cellulose on this planet 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 try this, I stated, “Wow, if I can break via this, we are able to enhance the assets of the world possibly by a 3rd or extra.” Who is aware of?

To determine learn how to break via 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 course of nowhere.

Marshall Medoff: I did not have a telephone there. No one 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 possibly can clear up this large 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 quite a lot of safety about the truth that I might get it accomplished. 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, in fact.  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: Containers piled to the ceiling?

Lesley Stahl: Containers? And?

Craig Masterman: Uh, I used to be shocked.

Lesley Stahl: The best way the place regarded.

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 considering in his head?

Craig Masterman: That is appropriate. However I implement issues. He thinks so much, I implement quite a lot of issues.

A have a look at the accelerators

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

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Lesley Stahl: Perhaps you possibly can inform us how the electron accelerator works.

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

Lesley Stahl: Downward.

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

Lesley Stahl: It would not sound that extraordinary once you hear it besides— nobody else had thought of it.

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

Lesley Stahl: And not one of the large scientists who had been working around the clock to determine learn how to get the sugars out–

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

His creative use of the accelerators caught the eye of buyers who noticed a possible goldmine within the know-how.They gave Medoff’s firm – Xyleco – tons of of thousands and thousands of {dollars}, permitting him to scale up and construct this manufacturing facility – in Moses Lake, Washington – so he may flip his invention into actuality. It is scheduled to be absolutely 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 atmosphere but additionally our well being. One of many plant sugars is named xylose and Medoff says it may cut back weight problems and diabetes, since it’s consumable, and low in energy.


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

Lesley Stahl: Sugar that does not decay your tooth?

Craig Masterman: Sure.

Lesley Stahl: Hallelujah, (snort) ?

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

Lesley Stahl: So, you possibly can drink all of the Coke. You do not have to drink Weight loss plan Coke anymore.

Marshall Medoff: No.

Lesley Stahl: And it will style the identical?

Marshall Medoff: Yeah. After all 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 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 drawback, some name it a plague, the buildup of plastic particles.

Lesley Stahl: You might have stated 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 case you take a plastic bag or a plastic bottle of Weight loss plan 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 exhausting to tell apart from common plastic besides in a single key manner. Chemical engineer David Jablonski says that Xyleco’s bio-plastic invention might 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 yow will discover that is very degraded.

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

David Jablonski: That’s appropriate.

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

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

Marshall Medoff: It’s a nonetheless.

Lesley Stahl: It’s a nonetheless?

Marshall Medoff: It is truly making alcohol proper now. Alcohol you can drink, or you possibly can put in your automotive, 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 gas. It would 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, in keeping with a examine 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 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 in regards to the electron beam accelerator, his creative manner 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, having access to the sugars.

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

Lesley Stahl: Has Xyleco accomplished it?

Bob Armstrong: Xyleco has accomplished it.

Marshall Medoff: Yeah, he knew I did it, yeah. After all, MIT could not get it accomplished.  

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 govt Sir John Jennings, and three former cupboard secretaries – Steve Chu of the Division of Power, George Shultz, former secretary of state and former protection secretary, William Perry.

Invoice Perry: Nicely, 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 undoubtedly is a personality. I come from a world of characters (LAUGHTER) in my scientific world.

Lesley Stahl: However he isn’t a scientist.

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

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

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

A potential 30 p.c dent within the petroleum market, in keeping with a report by the Division of Power. However the query is: can Marshall Medoff scale up his operation sufficient to compete with the oil business?

Invoice Perry: What’s unsure in my thoughts is how lengthy it is gonna take breaking into these big industrial markets, established markets, with established firms. That is gonna be an enormous 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 is going to discover its place. And I believe it is going to discover it comparatively rapidly due to all of the packing containers that it ticks.

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

Marshall Medoff: You would not have to vary something.

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

Marshall Medoff: Similar to we did–

Lesley Stahl: Precisely.

Marshall Medoff: –with the truck.

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

Marshall Medoff: Precisely.

Lesley Stahl: It the identical manner?

Marshall Medoff: Precisely.

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

Produced by Sarah Koch and Chrissy Jones


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