Innovation brings resilience to Gillette’s energy economy
In Gillette, energy industries power the local economy. In an era of falling prices and climate change regulation, Gillette’s energy economy is looking to innovation to lower costs and to turn environmental threats into in-demand products.
Doubling Down on Innovation
Two of the latest examples of forward-thinking in Gillette’s energy sector demonstrate the primary role that innovation will play as the industry advances into the 21st century. One example involves a company that helps industry players to produce more, cheaper and at higher degrees of efficiency. The other is a bold attempt to transform carbon into value-added products using advanced technologies.
CO2 For Sale
Last October, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead announced the building of the Integrated Test Center (ITC) at Basin Electric’s Dry Fork Station near Gillette. The audacious goal of the researchers at ITC is to find commercially-viable uses for the carbon dioxide emissions produced by coal-fired power plants.
“CO2 is considered to be an agent of climate change whether someone agrees or not,â€ says Phil Christopherson, CEO of Energy Capital Economic Development. “But, what if CO2 became a viable product? What if you made this waste product into a commodity? At that point the whole picture changes.”
The economic development group’s mission is to grow the local economy in the Gillette region. Adding jobs and increasing wealth overall are the prime focus, and it’s a goal the agency accomplishes through working with the players most likely to be involved in innovation.
“We want to work with primary businesses like manufacturers, minerals, oil and gas, agriculture – value-added industries that bring money into the community from outside,â€ says Christopherson, who sees the energy sector’s challenges as a boon for innovators. “We work in a cyclical industry, and when things get tough, entrepreneurs step up. We’re a catalyst that works with these entrepreneurs. We don’t start businesses, but we help businesses get started. We’re a resource that gives them a much better shot at success, and nowadays innovation is playing a huge role.”
Windcreek Services is so convinced of the role of innovation in the future of Gillette’s energy market that they’ve created a department dedicated to better, faster and cheaper solutions for the challenges the sector is facing. The department contributes to in-house projects and operations while also developing innovative solutions for outside clients.
“Right now innovation is mostly about sustaining markets,â€ says Joel Williamson, innovation engineer at Windcreek. “Businesses that might’ve bottomed out and gone away are still here because we’ve found super-better ways to do things. The kinds of solutions we offer create savings for our customers, allowing them to do more for less and keeping them running even when prices are this low.”
One high-profile solution developed by Windcreek’s innovators is making a big impact in the methane industry.
“We’ve developed a method for plugging methane that’s far superior to the conventional practices,â€ Williamson says. “Our method uses top-down plugging instead of the traditional bottom-up method. It reduces impact on the environment while simultaneously cutting labor and materials costs.”
For Williamson, this kind of cost saving for clients will always be the end goal of Windcreek’s innovation initiatives.
“How can we continue to produce cheaper?â€ Williamson asks. “We’re obsessed with developing and manufacturing the products that can do that.”
We work in a cyclical industry, and when things get tough, entrepreneurs step up.