Norbert Rillieux was born in New Orleans. His father was a French engineer and a plantation farmer. His mother had been a slave. Rillieux's father sent Norbert to France where he studied engineering. After returning to New Orleans, Rillieux invented his improved sugar refining process and evaporator. Rillieux invented a sugar processing evaporator and an improved sugar refining process that safely saved time and money in the making of sugar from sugar beets or sugar cane.
Refining sugar had been a labor-intensive process, involving the handling of boiling hot liquids. The slaves on the plantations performed most of this labor. Rillieux's inventions increased sugar production and reduced production costs. However, the most important thing was that his inventions protected lives by ending the older dangerous methods of sugar production. Rillieux later returned to France where he continued working on his inventing and published papers on the uses of steam and the steam engine.