Thinking Differently Powers Innovation

Les Edwards1 Comment

The power plant at our Lake Charles, Louisiana, calciner.

The power plant at our Lake Charles, Louisiana, calciner.

People usually think of innovation as something that’s never been done before. But is that narrow definition accurate and/or complete? Let me challenge this thinking with an example from Rain CII.

Several years ago, Bob Tonti, our SVP and director of business development, worked with the Louisiana Public Service Commission, local utilities, and industry groups to have waste heat from industrial processes recognized as a renewable form of energy in Louisiana. We knew using waste heat to generate electricity could offset power production with traditional fuel sources such as coal and natural gas, thus indirectly reducing CO2 emissions. In late 2012, Rain CII completed construction of a waste heat energy recovery project at our Lake Charles calcining plant capable of generating up to 36 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power more than 25,000 homes. It was the first project of its kind recognized under Louisiana’s 2009 pilot program to diversify the state’s energy production to renewable sources.

According to the accepted definition, this was not innovation. Our project used existing, well-established industrial processes. There were no technical or process breakthroughs. It did, however, completely transform our plant. It created a new revenue stream to help secure its long-term future, it created jobs at the plant and in the community, and it turns millions of BTUs of hot gases from a stack into valuable energy with no added CO2 emissions. To me, that’s the very definition of innovation.

I chose this example not just to challenge the definition of innovation, but to point out two vital components that must be present for it to create value: collaboration and change. Our waste heat project required collaboration between the state, Rain CII management, our employees, Entergy (power company), and our project contractors for successful completion. Once commissioned, the new plant represented a significant change for our employees but we are now successfully producing power alongside calcined coke. The project has also had a substantial environmental benefit and reduced the plant’s direct emissions.

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Innovation is a frequent topic at Rain CII. In this short video, I talk with our president and CEO Gerry Sweeney about how our innovative power project positively affected us and created new opportunities for our people.



One Comment on ““Thinking Differently Powers Innovation”

  1. David Langston

    Les, you are right on point with this. Frequently innovation is key to doing something you are already doing – but doing it in a more efficient way. To me innovators are often just seeking simplicity when they find new ways of doing things.

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