Inventions Thomas Edison Would Love: Biomass Conversion

Solar energy applications are not just the solar electric panels that convert sunlight to electricity, or the majestic large, spinning, wind turbines we see on the great plains or in offshore clusters. Solar applications also include the use of biomass… materials grown and then processed into fuel or useful products.

Here is what the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL] has to say about biomass applications:

  • Biofuels — Converting biomass into liquid fuels for transportation
  • Biopower — Burning biomass directly, or converting it into gaseous or liquid fuels that burn more efficiently, to generate electricity
  • Bioproducts — Converting biomass into chemicals for making plastics and other products that typically are made from petroleum

Biofuels can be used to supplement our energy sources, replace existing petrochemical energy sources, reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy, and reduce the environmental impact/greenhouse gas emissions of petrochemical energy use.

Every time the price of a barrel of oil goes up a dollar, it costs the Navy $31 million in extra fuel costs. The U.S. military is very interested in alternative fuels — in particular, the wood-based biofuels being researched and produced at the University of Maine. Check out this amazing process.

Professor Clayton Wheeler of U of Maine

Professor Clayton Wheeler of U of Maine

Professor Clayton Wheeler of U of Maine holding a bottle of biofuel made from wood materials. This biofuel can be used as is as a substitute for heating oil or refined a bit more for use as a premium transportation fuel/jet fuel.

It is fascinating to remember Thomas Edison experimented with biomass back in the late 1920s, trying to find common plant materials that could be processed to become a viable substitute for rubber. In his painstaking years of work, Edison and his staff evaluated about 17,000 candidate plant species, to develop a giant cross-bred goldenrod plant that could grow as tall as 12 feet; and whose structure contained about 12% rubber. In 1927, Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone formed the Edison Botanic Research Corporation of Fort Myers. Plants were collected in Florida and throughout the southern United States by field collectors. Plants were grown under controlled conditions in Florida and at Edison’s laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey.

Edison in Fort Myers

Edison in Fort Myers in 1931, along with his giant goldenrod plant, later named after him, Solidago edisoniana.

The plant processing equipment Edison used in his West Orange Chemistry Lab to facilitate the extraction of latex rubber from his goldenrod and other candidate plants.

The plant processing equipment Edison used in his West Orange Chemistry Lab to facilitate the extraction of latex rubber from his goldenrod and other candidate plants.












Editor’s Deep Dive:

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left.”

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Edison to Einstein – Happy Birthday 3/14

Edison salutes the genius of Einstein and celebrates his upcoming birthday on March 14th.

Although Thomas Edison (1847-1931) was considerably older than Albert Einstein (1879-1955), both men were quite similar in their ability to change the world; Edison in our physical world and standards of living, and Einstein in redefining the universe and our relationship with it. These two men are often referred to as being among the top change agents in world history.

Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein - Fellow Innovators

Both had an indomitable persistence in trying new ideas, as exemplified through similar quotes:


“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”


“I have not failed 10,000 times, I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

They also possessed a “no bones about it” outlook on thinking outside the box-


“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”


“There are no rules here. We are trying to accomplish something!”

Edison and Einstein were indefatigable workers, hot on the trails of their respective areas of expertise. Work and play for them were largely indistinguishable. Copious notes were kept by both men, always aware of the need for continuous research and self-improvement. Their lives reflected great personal discipline and focus.

In the year of Einstein’s birth 1879, Edison invents the first commercially viable electric light, and on December 31st of that year, lights up his Menlo Park Facility—the first Christmas holiday light display is born. There is another interesting play on “light” as well. Einstein goes on to revolutionize physics with his interpretations of light and its relationship to matter and energy with his famous equation stating that “energy equals mass times the speed of light squared”.

E = MC2

Two great innovators both working with light. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it!

Happy Birthday Albert Einstein!


Thomas Edison on Time Magazine“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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Could You Work for Thomas Edison?

Could You Work for Thomas Edison?Thomas Edison was famous for giving job applicants a special “practical” test he had composed. Many well-educated “college men” had great difficulty passing this test, as Edison often chided the education system for producing rote memory specialists who had little original thinking power. Various versions of these tests existed over the years, often succumbing to probing newspaper publishers who obtained the tests and printed the answers.

There were originally 150 questions for the applicant to answer. A perfect score was not needed, but you had better score high if you expected to work for the great inventor. Here in this very shortened version, which appeared in the October 11, 2004 print edition of U.S. News & World Report, you can take the test and see the answers below. No peeking until you are finished!

1. What city in the United States is noted for its laundry-machine making?

2. Who was Leonidas?

3. Who invented logarithms?

4. Where is Magdalena Bay?

5. What is the first line in the Aeneid?

6. What is the weight of air in a room 10 by 20 by 30 feet?

7. Who composed Il Trovatore?

8. What voltage is used on streetcars?

9. Which countries supply the most mahogany?

10. Who was the Roman emperor when Jesus Christ was born?

11. How many cubic yards of concrete in a wall 12 by 20 by 2 feet?

12. Who assassinated President Lincoln?

So, could you have worked for the man?


Thomas Edison on Time Magazine

1. Newton, Iowa 2. Spartan general who died at Thermopylae 3. John Napier 4. Baja California 5. Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris 6. Air at 0.075 pounds per cubic foot x 6,000= 450 pounds 7. Giuseppe Verdi 8. 600 volts, at the time 9. Brazil, Bolivia 10. Augustus 11. 17.78 cubic yards 12. John Wilkes Booth


“What you are will show in what you do.”

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