Kanin Energy Makes Waste-Heat-to-Power a Reality with Business-Model Innovation

Heavy industry is notoriously hard to decarbonize, due to factors including the massively high temperatures needed for its manufacturing processes. While innovations are necessary—and are currently being developed—to reduce the sector’s reliance on fossil fuels, we can take immediate action through waste-heat-to-power (WHP) technology.

The good news is we already have all the technology for WHP. This process captures waste heat from industrial facilities and converts it to usable power, rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere. That electricity can then be used on-site to reduce the facilities’ need for future energy input, or can be sold to the grid for a profit.

The bad news is WHP can be tricky to finance, and just as complicated to install—meaning many operators today have chosen to forgo the innovation, deeming it not “core” to their businesses.

Kanin Energy seeks to disrupt this dynamic by offering turnkey development and third-party financing, bringing WHP to heavy industry at no cost to the host facilities.

“Our skillset as a developer is to tie it all up and remove any friction to implementation,” says Janice Tran, the startup’s CEO and co-founder. “This is technology selection, understanding power markets and navigating interconnections, finding capital that’s familiar with this technology, and running operations.”

The climate impact here is substantial. Up to 58 percent of energy produced for industrial processes is lost through waste heat, according to Kanin Energy, and the startup reduces facilities’ CO2 emissions by an annual average of 35,000 metric tonnes.

Offering this technology to facilities free of installation and maintenance costs is a step change for the deployment of WHP. Kanin Energy makes this economically viable by monetizing the baseload electricity created and sharing the revenue stream with the host facilities.

Kanin Energy works with facilities focused on cement, iron, steel, natural gas, biomass, and more. Through its deployment with Tallgrass, the startup says it’s offsetting almost 250,000 short tons of CO2 equivalent per year—equivalent to decarbonizing power to 38,000 U.S. households. 

Tran’s background prepared her well to head up a WHP startup. She was an early employee of Generate Capital, where she worked on its WHP investment team. She also draws on her experiences on NRG Energy’s microgrids team, where she learned the importance of 24/7 baseload power.

“I wish more investors would take the leap to be founders, because as an investor, you have this really amazing point of view where you get to see patterns of what successful companies do, how they approach problems, and how they grow,” she says.

While her longtime friend Dan Fipke persuaded her to switch from investing to co-found the company with him and Jake Bainbridge, Tran says she’s always had an “entrepreneurial bent”—owing part to her parents’ own paths as entrepreneurs, and part to her belief that entrepreneurship is a prime way to make a significant impact. Before branching out as a climatetech entrepreneur, she co-founded the nonprofit Student Energy, which bills itself as the “largest global charity dedicated to educating and uniting post-secondary students on energy issues.”

While at Generate Capital, Tran also saw how few women and BIPOC founders there were in climatetech, and especially focused on heavy industry innovations.

“That was a big motivator for me to step up into a CEO position—to see more representation from women and minorities,” she says.

Tran speaks incredibly highly of Kanin Energy’s 14-person team, and attributes the startup’s success and progress to their hard work. 

Kanin Energy was founded in Calgary, Canada, and expanded to Houston, TX given the city’s high concentration of potential customers. Greentown Houston has been a good “branching out point” for Kanin Energy, according to Tran.

“Greentown Houston has been able to help us build our sales pipeline, put us in contact with investors, and overall provide a safe and really supportive space for founders to collaborate,” she says.