Biography of Dr. Thomas B. Reed (Reed, 2005) [WGT05900]

Note: This page is a slightly updated version of the one which appeared on the Biomass Energy Foundation website.

Dr. Thomas B. Reed

Dr. Thomas B. Reed
Inventor – Scientist – Engineer – Teacher

Biographical Summary

Tom Reed was born in Chicago Jan 2, 1926 to Florence and Kenneth Reed. In 1939, his parents moved to Glencoe, a suburb, for better schools, and Tom attended New Trier High school starting in 1939.  In 1943, he left high school early to attend Northwestern University before he joined the U. S. Air Force as a cadet in 1944.

After discharge in 1945 he graduated from Northwestern with a BS in Physical Chemistry in 1947.   He married Vivian Odh the same week, and they left for Texas to work for the new Shell Oil Exploration Lab in Houston setting up the instrumentation lab.  This work convinced him there was a lot more to learn, and he returned to the University of Minnesota to get a degree in Physical Chemistry, specializing in crystallography in 1953.

Tom went then to the Linde division of Union Carbide and worked in the areas of crystals and high temperature processes and chemistry, a great "post doc" learning experience.  In 1960 he took this expertise to MIT (Lincoln Laboratory) where he was in charge of new crystal growth for 18 years.

In 1974 Tom became concerned with the world’s energy supply and wrote a seminal article on methanol as a fuel that appeared at the height of the "Energy Crisis" as the lead article in the journal, Science (click to read article).  This article and subsequent events eventually changed his career from Material Science to Alternate Fuels.

After getting "cross threaded" with the MIT Energy Laboratory (whose policy was based only primarily on developing more fossil fuels), Tom left MIT in 1977 to join the newly formed Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) in Golden, CO.  There he designed and built a high pressure oxygen gasifier for biomass which in 1987 was scaled to 75 tons/day (by Syn-Gas, Inc.).  Unfortunately this was at the peak of the oil glut and the gasifier did not become commercial.

In 1985 Tom moved from SERI to the Colorado School of Mines to continue his biomass research there with more "elbow room".  In 1994 he inherited the Biomass Energy Foundation which, along with his pensions, gave him more financial flexibility.

Before returning to Massachusetts, Tom Reed lived in sunny Golden, Colorado with his wife, Vivian, where they managed the BEF, the research and the grandchildren. They have four professional children and seven grandchildren. Later, Tom and his wife moved to lush green Massachusetts to be close to his daughter Katherine Lathrop and their outstanding Great Rock Alpaca Farm. They relocated to an 1850 house on the square in the town of Barre, a self sufficient farm community where Tom spends a lot of his time tending to the garden and brush and other practical matters. Tom still works with the Biochar Engineering Corporation in Golden designing commercial biochar equipment but has transformed from a City Mouse to a Town mouse and a Country mouse when at Great Rock Alpacas, 4 miles South. Other current interests as time permits include music (piano, flute and choir), history, bridge, tennis and racquetball (weekly).

Dr. Reed’s Research

Dr. Thomas Reed is a Physical Chemist (PhD, U. Minn.) and loves research, (as well as engineering, teaching, and inventing). He has a small laboratory where he can perform experiments on biomass pyrolysis, gasification and stoves.


Dr. Thomas B. Reed
Inventor – Scientist – Engineer – Teacher

Current Website:


BS, Northwestern University, Physical Chemistry – 1947
PhD, University of Minnesota, Physical Chemistry – 1952

Areas of Expertise:

Alternate fuels; Biomass Gasification, Biomass energy and economics; High temperature techniques; Solid State Materials; Thermodynamics

Professional Experience:

1986 to 2000 Research Professor, Dept. Of Chemical Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

1977-1986 Principal Scientist, Thermochemical Research Branch, Solar Fuels and Chemicals Division of the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI, now NREL)

  • Designed and tested high pressure oxygen gasifier
  • Developed "predictive model" of downdraft gasifier
  • Made first synthetic methanol from biomass
  • Definition of biomass research programs at SERI
  • Taught engineering thermodynamics, CSM

1960-1975 Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Research Scientist

  • Taught thermodynamics in Materials Science Dept.
  • Director of Methanol Division, MIT Energy Laboratory
  • Resident crystal growth expert, development of new semiconductors and superconductors

1952-1959 Linde Division of Union Carbide – Research Scientist

  • Development of plasma devices
  • First synthetic (A) zeolite structure
  • Chemical processing
  • Synthetic diamond

1947-1948 Shell Oil Company, Research staff

  •  Installed instrumentation for oil and mineral research in new laboratory

1944-1945 United States Air Force Cadet

Professional Activities:

  • President – Biomass Energy Foundation
  • Director – Synthetic Fuel Research Center, 1975-78
  • Director – Methanol Fuel Division, MIT Energy Lab, 1974-75
  • Member – NSF Committee on Renewable Resources
  • Member – Battelle Sugar Plant Energy Study
  • Member – Producer Gas Roundtable, Royal Institute, Sweden
  • Member – AAAS, ACS

Professional Recognition:

  • Senior Research Fellow, Department of Inorganic Chemistry, Oxford University, 1965-1966
  • 1982 R&D100 award for oxygen gasifier as invention of the year
  • 1993 R&D award for Sea Sweep oil absorbent as invention of the year


  • Founder and Director of Research for Sea Sweep, Inc. A new oil spill absorbent, current business $180,000/yr
  • President Environmental Energy Alternatives, Inc., manufacturers of biodiesel from waste vegetable oil
  • Partner in New Harbors, Inc. New consumer products
  • President, Biomass Energy Foundation, a not for profit 501(c)3 org.

Patents and Publications:


  • Atlas of Thermal Properties of Biomass and Other Fuels, (Dekker, Spring 1998)
  • "Handbook of Biomass Downdraft Gasifier Engine Systems", the BEF PRESS
  • "Gen Gas", (Editor), the BEF PRESS
  • "Biomass Gasification Principles and Technology", (Editor) Noyes Press, 1981
  • Free Energy of Formation of Binary Compounds, MIT Press, 1971, republished by the BEF PRESS
  • "Thermal Properties of Biomass and Other Fuels", S. Gaur and T. Reed, 1998, Springer Verlag
  • "Survey of Biomass Gasification-2001", for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), published by the BEF PRESS


Over 150 papers in the field of biomass, synthetic fuels and materials research.


Twelve in the fields of biomass, material science and high temperature technology (see below).

A Biomass Resume

In 1972 Tom Reed became concerned about the energy and fuel futures of the U.S. and began working on alternate fuels on the side while working at MIT in the field of solid state research. He was the first person to use alcohol blends during this period and when he wrote "Methanol – A Clean Fuel for the 21st century", for Science magazine, it changed his career. In this article he said that for the short term methanol would be made from natural gas, but in the long term biomass could supply our needs forever.

He continued to work on methanol and biomass at MIT until 1977, but MIT has many associations with large business that makes it an unlikely place for developing alternative energy sources. In 1977 Tom Reed moved to the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI, now NREL) in Golden, Colorado to work on alternate fuels from biomass. Much of his time was occupied in developing a high pressure, oxygen gasifier for making synthesis gas for methanol, but he also wrote several books on gasification and biomass. SERI started with high hopes for effective energy research, but during the Reagan – oil-glut years there was not much funding for such "nonsense".

In 1986 Tom Reed took a position as research professor at the Colorado School of Mines in the department of Chemical Engineering where he now pursued work on various aspects of biomass and gasification at his own pace and direction. In particular, he traveled to India for FAO in 1990 and evaluated conversion of agricultural wastes to fuels and in 1992 he traveled to China for the Rockefeller Foundation to evaluate two new gasifiers built there. In 1996 he traveled around the world, visiting various gasification sites, gathering information for the book "Survey of Biomass Gasification".

Tom Reed became the president of the Biomass Energy Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 organization dedicated to research, inventions and education in the field of biomass energy. The foundation operates a small Press which keeps important books in this field available.


A.  Books and Book Chapters

"Free Energy of Formation of Binary Compounds" (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1972). Available from the Biomass Energy Foundation Press:

"Gengas: The Swedish Classic On Wood Fueled Vehicles", English translation, (SERI-1982), edited T.Reed, D. Jantzen and A. Das, with index. This is the "Old Testament" of gasification, written by the people involved in successfully converting 90% of transportation of WW II Sweden to wood gasifiers. Valuable practical and theoretical information.

"Fundamental Study and Scaleup of the Air-oxygen Stratified Downdraft Gasifier", T. Reed, M. Graboski and B. Levie (SERI1988). 290pp.

"Biomass To Methanol Specialists’ Workshop", Ed. T. B. Reed and M. Graboski. Expert articles on biomass to methanol, the clean liquid fuel for the 21st Century

"Biomass Gasification: Principles and Technology", Energy Technology Review No. 67, Noyes Data Corporation, Park Ridge, N.J., 1981. ISBN 0-8155-0852-2.

"Atlas of Thermal Properties of Biomass and Other Fuels," with S. Gaur in press.

"Handbook of Biomass Downdraft Gasifier Engine Systems", SERI, March 1985

"Generator Gas", T. B. Reed (Editor), TIPI Press, 1983

"Biomass Gasification Principles and Technology", (Editor) Noyes Press, 1981

B.  Journal Articles and Speeches

"Methanol: A Versatile Fuel for Immediate Use", T. B. Reed and R. M. Lerner, Science 182, 1299 (1973).

"Improved Performance of Internal Combustion Engines Using a 5-15% Methanol in Gasoline", T. B. Reed et al., Paper 7491104, IECEC Conference, Aug. 1974, p. 952 in Proceedings.

"Sources and Methods for Methanol Production", T. B. Reed and R. M. Lerner, Theme Hydrogen Conference, Miami Beach, Mar 18, 1974.

"Comparison of Methanol and Methanol Blends", T. B. Reed, Dir., Methanol Div., MIT Energy Lab, Cambridge, Ma., 1974.

"Use and Production of Methanol as a Synthetic Fuel", T. B. Reed, MIT Energy Lab., ACS publication.

"Methanol for Fuel", Bibliography on the production and Use of Alcohol Fuels to 1974.

"Biomass Energy Refineries for Production of Fuel and Fertilizer", T.B. Reed, Applied Polymer Symposium, No. 28, 1-9 (1975).

"The Use of Alcohols and Other Synthetic Fuels in Europe from 1930-1950", T. B. Reed, AIChE, Boston Mass., Sept. 1975.

"Efficiencies of Methanol Production from Gas, Coal, Waste or Wood", T. B. Reed, Paper in Net Energetics of Integrated Synfuel Systems, Symposium, April 4-9, 1976, N.Y., Paper in ACS Fuel Division Publications.

"When the Oil Runs Out – A Survey of our Primary Energy Sources and the Fuels We Can Make from Them", in Capturing the Sun Through Bioconversion, March 10, Washington, D. C. (Also presented at the Swedish International Methanol Conference, the Swedish Royal Academy of Engineering.)

"Methanol at MIT: Industry Influence Charged in Project Cancellation", A. L. Hammond, Science 190, 761 (1975).

"The Production and Use of Alcohols as Fuels", T. B. Reed, Paper No. 21 in ACS Symposium Shaping the Future of the Rubber Industry, San Francisco, Ca, Oct. 5, 1976

"The Potential Impact of Widespread Use of Wood and Alcohols", T. B. Reed, in Symposium Alcohols as Alternative Fuels, Ontario, Toronto, Canada, Nov. 19, 1976

"The Electrochemical Power Cycle", MIT ?

"Questions and Answers on Alcohol and Gasohol Fuels", T. B. Reed, testimony before the Senate Appropriation Committee, Jan, 31, 1978.

"Energetics and Economics of Densified Biomass Fuel (DBF) Production", T. B. Reed and B. Bryant, AIChE symposium, Feb. 26, 1978.

"Densified Biomass: A New Form of Solid Fuel", T. B. Reed and B. Bryant, SERI-35, U. S. DOE Contract EG-77-C-01-4042.

"Status and Prospects of Biomass Energy Research", T. B. Reed, Paper at American Physical Society Annual Meeting, Mar 29 1978, Washington, D. C.

"Developing a Biomass Energy Program for SERI and the Nation", T. B. Reed, the Wood Energy Institute Seminar, Madison, WI, Apr 4, 1978.

"Primary Pyrolysis Kinetics of Pelletized Wood Wastes", T. B. Reed and M. J. Antal, Jr., Princeton University, in ACS Symposium Advances in Synthetic Fuels, Div. of Petroleum Chemistry, Sept; 10, 1978.

"Biomass Energy Paths", T. B. Reed, the Mid-South Biomass Energy Workshop on Regional R&D Needs., Jul 6, 1978, Little Rock, AR.

"Biomass Energy – A Two Edged Sword", T. B. Reed, the International Solar Energy Society, Denver, CO Aug 28, 1978.

"Technology and Economics of Close-Coupled Gasifiers for Retrofitting Gas/Oil Combustion Units to Biomass Feedstock", T. B. Reed, D. E Jantzen, W. P. Corcoran and R. Witholder, SERI, in REACT 78, the Biomass Energy Institute, Winnipeg, Canada, Oct. 2, 1978.

"Potential Improvements in Alcohol Production and Use", T. B. Reed and W. S. Hedrick, the Regional Energy Conference, Joint Educational Consortium, Mar 1980.

"Biomass Densification Energy Requirements", T. B. Reed, G. Trezek and L. Diaz, (?).

"Perspectives in Heat Transfer Requirements and Mechanisms for Fast Pyrolysis", T. B. Reed, J. P. Diebold and R. Desrosiers in Specialists’ Workshop on the Fast Pyrolysis of Biomass, Copper Mt, CO Oct. 19, 1980.

"The Combustion, Pyrolysis, Gasification and Liquefaction of Biomass", T. B. Reed, in Energy from Biomass, Brighton England, Nov. 4, 1980.

"Biomass Gasification for Production of Gaseous and Liquid Fuels", T. B. Reed, T. Milne, J. Diebold, R. Desrosiers in Third Symposium on Biotechnology in Energy Production, Gatlinburg, TN, May 12, 1981.

"The Production of Methanol from Biomass", T. B. Reed, Testimony before the Subcommittee on Energy and Power on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, U. S. House of Representatives, Dec. 18, 1980.

"Present Status of Gasification/Pyrolysis Processes in the United States", T. B. Reed, in Industrial Wood Energy Forum’82, Washington, D. C., 8 Mar, 1982.

"Synthesis Gas from Biomass: Operating Data on a 1-Ton/Day Oxygen Gasifier", T. B. Reed, M. Graboski and Mike Markson, in 13th Thermochemical Conversion Contractors Meeting", Arlington, BA, 27 Oct., 1981.

"Oxygen Production for Biomass Gasification", in Biomass To Methanol Specialists’ Workshop, Ed. T. B. Reed and M. Graboski, 1981.

"The SERI High Pressure Oxygen Gasifier", in Ibid.

"Biomass Gasification: Fueling and Feeding the Third Millennium", T. B. Reed, the SERI Research Lecture Series, Nov. 17, 1982.

The Scientific Basis of Gasifier Design", T. B. Reed at CSIR Conference, Forest Products Research International, Praetoria, S. A., April 22, 1983.

Biomass Gasification for Power, Fuels and Chemicals", T. B. Reed, B. Levie and A. Das in Fifth Canadian Bioenergy R&D Seminar, S. Hasnain, Ed., London, Elsevier, 48, 1984.

"Evaluation of Downdraft Gasificaiton for MSW Conversion", T. B. Reed at Energy from Municipal Waste Research Workshop, Kissimee, Fl., Feb 22, 1984

"A Predictive Model for Stratified Downdraft Gasification of Biomass", in (?).

"A Mathematical Model for Stratified Downdraft Gasifiers", T. B. Reed, B. Levie and M. L. Markson, in (?)

"Biomass Gasification Reaction Velocities", T. B. Reed and M. Markson, in (?)

"Role of Carbon Saturation in Thermal Conversion Processes", T. B. Reed in 15th Thermochemical Conversion Contractors Meeting", Arlington, BA, 27 Oct., 1985 (?).

"Feasibility of Producing Polymers from Current and Alternate Feedstocks", at Polymer Materials Professional Development Workshop, U. S. Bureau of Mines, Dec. 5, 1988.

"Methanol Production from Biomass and Municipal Waste" Process Design and Economics", T. B. Reed, and M.S. Graboski, in (?)

NOTE: As a practicing scientist I was asked to present a lot of papers. Often the papers were published 1-4 years later. Maybe I received a copy of the publication and maybe not. Many of the above references are not attached to the final publication, but the "?" could be filled in with some research.

C.  Material Science Papers

54 papers in Material Science, written during the period 1952-1978 at Union Carbide and MIT, available on request.

D.  Patents and Processes

  • 2,874,265: Non-Transferred Arc Torch Process and Apparatus.
  • 2,884,510: Constricted Arc Apparatus and Process.
  • 2,898,441: Arc Torch Push Starting.
  • 2,951,143: Arc Torch.
  • 3,030,490: Multiple Purpose Arc Torch Apparatus.
  • 3,077,108: Supersonic Hot Gas Stream Generating Apparatus and Method.
  • 3,324,334: Induction Plasma Torch with Means for Recirculating the Plasma.
  • 3,414,661: High Temperature Furnace.
  • 3,625,660: Method and Structure for Growing Crystals.
  • 3,626,154: Transparent Furnace.
  • 4,168,013: High Temperature Insulating Container. (With W. King).
  • 5,110,785: Composition of Matter and Method of Making.

Note: Patents are only legal documents and do not necessarily indicate an important contribution. The following processes are now operating commercially using the above patents or modifications thereof:

  • Plasma Jet Cutting (>20 companies)
  • Plasma Acetylene Production
  • Induction Plasma Torch Processes and Production
  • Induction Plasma Spectral Analysis Equipment (Thousands)
  • Atmospheric High Temperature Furnace
  • Arc Furnace
  • Transparent Furnace (Trans Temp Corp., Boston.)
  • Sea Sweep, production of 300 tons, 1992-1997.

Vivian Reed

Vivian Odh Reed was my everloving wife and helpmate. We celebrated our 50th anniversary in 1997.

Vivian was born in Winnetka Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  We knew each other well in high school and eventually graduated from Northwestern University together and got married the same week in June 1947.  She was at various times a primary school and preschool teacher, and she taught all of us by example.

Her life was primarily her family.