John D. Rockefeller may have been the richest American who ever lived, but he had a frugal man’s disdain for waste and disorder. Instead of discarding the byproducts that came from refining oil to kerosene, he invested in research and development to make the process more efficient. He sold one byproduct, paraffin, to candlemakers; and another, petroleum jelly, to medical supply companies. He even sold waste as paving materials for roads. While his competitors were polluting Ohio’s rivers and creeks with waste gasoline, Rockefeller found a profitable use for it and it eventually became the core of his business.
At Rain CII, we agree with Mr. Rockefeller’s way of thinking. For several years, we’ve looked for a higher value use for another byproduct from the petroleum industry, shot coke. Large volumes of shot coke produced at oil refineries are sold as a low-cost fuel similar to coal. At 20-30% levels, it can improve anode density and other properties, and provide raw material savings to aluminum smelters who face enormous cost pressure due to low aluminum prices and high input costs. Working with a patent filed in 2004 and a paper published in 2009, Rain CII and one of our smelting customers are testing shot coke in an extended two-year plant trial.
Innovation is seldom out-of-the-blue. More often, as Mr. Rockefeller and Rain CII know, innovation comes from thoroughly understanding the business and science, and being willing to challenge current paradigms. In many ways, it is the result of continuous improvement and an absolute belief that there’s always a better way. In our next blog, we’ll talk about an innovation on the coal tar pitch side of our Rütgers’ business, which is now the basis of another successful product line.