Edison and Tesla – Experts Weigh in

It seems somewhat fashionable today, especially among young folks, to believe Thomas Edison took unfair advantage of Tesla … but it’s not true. The experts and archivists at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, NJ cannot find anything on file to indicate acrimonious exchanges between these two great inventors. For a brief period of months, Tesla worked for Edison at one of his New York City shops on a specific project, and when that project was closed down, Tesla left. He did not even work directly for Edison. Somehow, the conspiracy theories continue to grind out all sorts of terrible things that Edison was purported to have done.

Edison versus Tesla: The Truth Behind the Edison/Telsa Controversy as Discussed by Experts

A very well documented book [Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age] by W. Bernard “Bernie” Carlson, noted technology author and professor at the University of Virginia, carefully analyzes this complex man. Consider some salient points Carlson makes about one of America’s first celebrity scientists.

Tesla was an astute self-promoter and gifted showman who cultivated a memorable and dramatic public image as an eccentric genius. He promoted his inventions by creating [fanciful and perhaps unrealistic] visions of future peace and prosperity. Unlike Edison, who started with an idea and drove it all the way through to establishing companies to manufacture his products- a classic vertically integrated entrepreneurial approach- Tesla preferred to patent, promote, and sell his inventions to investors and businessmen. What escaped Tesla was the need to do the nuts and bolts engineering, manufacturing optimization, and incremental improvements needed to make a product customer worthy.

Edison and Tesla saw the world very differently. Edison practiced what is called market-pull innovation, letting the demands of the customer drive the economics and such. Tesla practiced knowledge-push innovation, creating a vision for his technology and selling it that way.

Tesla advocates, often young folks, tend to see Tesla as the ultimate geek, unsullied by profits and debased by the give and take of the business world.

In many ways we have a need to cast comparisons of Tesla and Edison as good versus evil, but Carlson shows it is just not that kind of comparison. They are two men who looked at the world of invention from two distinctly different standpoints. Both men helped propel a young America forward, stimulate technological development and instill in millions of Americans the benefits of technology. Both men…giants of the times … succeeded … and, that is really what we need to remember.

See for yourself in the video below what the experts say about these two giants of electricity. Bernie Carlson and Leonard DeGraaf, archivist at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park, recently shared the dais at the Mark Twain historic home in Connecticut to discuss the Edison-Tesla interactions. Enjoy.

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others … I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent …”

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Cleaning the Environment with Plastics – An Edison-like Innovation

Consider this equation:

Carbon bearing waste streams + Human ingenuity
= Plastic + Cleaner environment

Any waste stream containing carbon now can be used to make plastics-no longer requiring oil based plastic technology. It cleans the air and reduces the need for petroleum-based chemistry/products. Who would not want to salute this?

It all started 10 years ago in a dorm room in Princeton, University. The chemistry has been known for quite some time, but some very ingenious young folks make it economically possible … just like Edison when he beat out about 20 international invention teams to make the electric light bulb commercially practical.

Pellets of plastic produced by the process

Pellets of plastic produced by the process

The heart of the innovation is bio-catalyst technology, a very powerful chemical enabler. Carbon bearing gas is first captured, and then liquefied. The catalyst is added and grabs the carbon out of the liquid, helping re-arrange it in long hydrocarbon chains … plastic … a plastic that resembles polypropylene.

AirCarbon™ is a naturally biodegradable polyester that can be recycled in multiple use cycles, and can be formulated into both biodegradable and non-biodegradable grades according to the durability and carbon capture needs of a given application.

The motivator for the young entrepreneurs was to reduce global warming. The young entrepreneurs call their product AirCarbon™; and they worked long and hard at odd jobs to keep their idea alive. Their company is Newlight Technologies, LLC of Irvine California.

Independent lab testing confirms this process removes more carbon from the atmosphere than their manufacturing emits-carbon negative. First products to be made from this will include chairs, food containers, auto parts, and cell phone cases.

Come to think of it, Thomas Edison’s favorite science was chemistry. He would have had a blast with AirCarbon™ technology!

Editor’s Deep Dive

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “When I have finally decided that a result is worth getting, I go ahead on it and make trial after trial until it comes.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.


Inventions Thomas Edison Would Love: Energy Storage

We all know about energy storage as we routinely charge our cell phones and hand held devices every evening. That same battery technology we employ in electric/hybrid vehicles. Thomas Edison charged his electric vehicles in his garage every evening-all the way back in 1908. In a world where we integrate intermittent solar and wind energy systems into our electric utility grids, developing robust, large-scale, energy storage systems makes sense. In fact, energy storage on a utility scale has been around for many years. Hydroelectric dams are the prime example, but the best hydro sites already have been used. Here are some ways we may be storing utility grade electricity in the years to come.

Inventions Thomas Edison Would Love: Energy StorageAdvanced megawatt size battery storage, perhaps in the range of 5-20 MW blocks, may use unique combinations of chemical substances like sodium-sulfur, zinc-bromide/zinc-chlorine, and vanadium are now being tested and deployed. These systems are capable of being deeply discharged and recharged quickly for they must be capable of smoothing out surges on the national grid caused as solar electric and wind energy systems come off-line as solar or wind conditions wane. Designed to be highly modular for ease of construction and expansion, such systems might be located along existing utility system transmission line rights-of-way or near wind machine farms.

Inventions Thomas Edison Would Love: Energy StorageA much larger energy storage system might involve compressed air energy storage (CAES), where large amounts of compressed air are pumped into an underground cavern (natural or man-made). These cavern-filling periods would occur during off-peak grid periods or evening hours when load is low and excess generation capacity is available. Later, this valuable reservoir of stored energy can be taped, with the air released through turbo-generators to produce large amounts of utility-grade electricity. Of course the location of such a large storage system is dependent upon finding a suitable area for hosting the underground cavern. Since 1991, a 110 MW CAES plant has been in operation in McIntosh, Alabama. Another such plant, 290 MW, has been in operation in Huntorf, Germany since 1978.

Inventions Thomas Edison Would Love: Energy StorageA different approach to energy storage at the local level – i.e. home, commercial application – is the flywheel. A flywheel is a high speed rotating mechanical device that is used to store energy and can be discharged as needed to return that stored energy in the form of electricity. Flywheels can store kilowatts worth of power; and can be banked together to deliver larger megawatt size blocks of power. These systems are likely to be used for everything from commercial to utility applications-and may someday also find application in residential settings. Key concerns here are the materials considerations of the flywheels themselves-delicately balanced to spin at more than 10,000 RPM. Tremendous forces are evident in flywheel applications, with safety being of paramount concern. Nanotechnology is making inroads here, resulting in light-weight, very strong materials for the spinning components of the system.

In the 1880s, Thomas Edison knew the value of energy storage on his then developing electric utility system, and with solar and wind technologies being used ever more often, today, so will today’s utility system operators.

Editor’s Deep Dive

Additional Edison Muckers Articles:

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison – Man of the Millennium – said … “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Time® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.