Exploring this Job
Keep up with developments and trends in bioenergy and biofuels by reading magazines and books. Pick an area of bioenergy and biofuels that interests you, then do an Internet search to find the companies that specialize in this area. If any are located near you, see if they have part-time or summer job openings or volunteer opportunities. You can also find resources, event listings, and job postings on the Biofuels Digest Web site (http://biofuelsdigest.com).
Bioenergy can be derived from wood, construction and consumer waste, landfill gas, and liquid biofuels such as ethanol for use in generating electricity, producing heat, and fueling vehicles. The United States gets approximately 4 percent of its energy from bioenergy, including wood and crops such as corn and soybeans.
There are a variety of jobs in the bioenergy and biofuels industry, from scientists and researchers to engineers, construction workers, product and plant managers, and a whole host of others. People are needed to create and improve the products and the technology, oversee and manage the operations and staff, as well as to build the facilities in which the work is done.
Scientists and biologists may work in the areas of research and development, to help advance the ways in which bioenergy and biofuels are produced. For instance, a bioenergy plant scientist may be involved in bioenergy crop research, conducting studies on plant growth and development, and plant adaptation to environmental stresses. This scientist's work may involve molecular studies of plants, in an effort to understand gene compositions and functions. A seed production scientist helps organize and manage seed production programs for companies. As described in one Internet advertisement for employment with a biofuels company in the agribusiness sector, the job can entail researching and developing seed production techniques for bioenergy grass crops, and include selecting production sites, field design, seed crop establishment, flowering and pollination control, seed harvest and handling, and developing quality-control programs.
Biological technicians work closely with biologists to research and study living organisms. They work as laboratory assistants, helping to set up, operate, and maintain laboratory equipment. They also monitor experiments, make observations, calculate and record results, and develop research conclusions. They may work in biotechnology, conducting basic research on gene splicing and recombinant DNA and applying knowledge and techniques to product development for biofuels and bioenergy. Agricultural technicians have similar roles in providing laboratory and research assistance, with their subject matter being crop production and processes. They conduct tests and experiments to improve the yield and quality of crops, and to help increase plants' resistance to disease, insects, or other hazards.
A biofuels product manager will work closely with business development managers, business analysts, and other product managers to help strategize business plans, product development, and product launches of biofuels. One posting for an ethanol product manager included job responsibilities such as interpreting customer and market needs and translating this information to research and development groups. Problem-solving abilities, strong communication skills, and the knack for analyzing data and communicating and presenting it clearly to different groups of people are required to succeed as a product manager. Other requirements may include guiding and participating in conferences, helping to create product strategies (including functionality, pricing, etc.), product application development and prototype testing, and handling communications with external groups.
Biofuels plant managers oversee all operations of biofuels and biorefinery plants, and are responsible for everything from machinery functionality to staff performance. A recent posting for a biofuels plant manager in Minnesota included these job responsibilities:
- Ensure production is efficient and maximized
- Provide direction to ensure proper levels of maintenance as well as compliance with safety and environmental regulations
- Direct continuous improvements and quality-assurance efforts
- Lead cross-functional efforts to facilitate best practices and process initiatives
- Provide solid leadership; serve as a role model for the plant's management team
- Revise policies and procedures as necessary to achieve the highest levels of morale and working relationships
- Prepare and manage plant-wide budgets.
People applying for this job also needed to have strong knowledge of chemical distillation, fermentation, and grain refining, processing, and extracting processes. They also needed prior experience in a petroleum, ethanol, biodiesel, biofuels, or chemical plant.
Engineers and construction managers and workers are also needed to create bioenergy and biofuels plants. Civil, electrical, industrial, and mechanical engineers develop designs for plants and process equipment using computer-aided design and computer-aided industrial design software. They work closely with architects, developers, business owners, construction crews, and others to make sure the work is done according to specifications. Construction managers coordinate the construction process, selecting and managing construction workers, and overseeing projects from the development phase to final construction. They may work as project manager, site manager, construction superintendent, project engineer, program manager, or general contractor.