Bioenergy/Biofuels Workers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Course work in math, biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, history, English, and computer software programs will provide a well-rounded basis for this career. Foreign language classes are also useful. If your school offers environmental studies classes, take these as well. Some bioenergy and biofuels jobs may require knowledge of machines, so it may be advantageous to take electronics, mechanics, and shop classes.

Postsecondary Training

Undergraduate requirements will vary depending on the job. Many companies and universities prefer to hire scientists, biologists, and researchers that have a bachelor's degree in science, and a Ph.D. in their specialty, which could be plant biology, biochemistry, physiology or genetics, to name only a few. Previous related research and project work may also be required for more advanced positions. Engineers may have a bachelor's or advanced degree in electrical, electronics, industrial, mechanical, or even civil engineering. Plant managers and product managers may have a bachelor's degree in business administration, management, industrial technology, or industrial engineering. Some jobs require a master's or Ph.D. in business, marketing, chemistry, biotechnology, or related fields, with experience in the biofuels industry. Some companies may hire plant or product managers with a liberal arts degree who match all other requirements of the job and can be trained while on the job.

The U.S. Department of Energy offers links to educational programs in clean energy at https://www.energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/energy-education-links. The National Science Foundation offers a list of college programs that offer biofuels-related degrees and certificates at https://www.bio-link.org/programs/degrees-by-program.

Many bioenergy/biofuels students participate in an internship with a biofuels employer while in college. The internship allows them to explore potential career paths, gain experience, and make valuable contacts, which may come in handy when it is time to look for a job. The U.S. Department of Energy offers links to information on internships, fellowships, and scholarships at https://www.energy.gov/eere/bioenergy/bioenergy-internship-fellowship-opportunities.

Other Education or Training

The Renewable Fuels Association offers continuing education opportunities at its National Ethanol Conference. Other professional associations provide continuing education classes, webinars, and conferences in their particular specialty. For example, the American Society of Agronomy offers an online class in agronomy.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Certification or licensing may be required for certain positions in the field. Contact your state's department of licensing for more information on requirements in your state. Engineering is one profession that is strongly regulated. Most states require engineers to be licensed. There are two levels of licensing for engineers. Professional engineers (PEs) have graduated from an accredited engineering curriculum, have four years of engineering experience, and have passed a written exam. Engineering graduates need not wait until they have four years' experience, however, to start the licensure process. Those who pass the Fundamentals of Engineering examination after graduating are called engineers in training (EIT) or engineer interns (EI). The EIT certification usually is valid for 10 years. After acquiring suitable work experience, EITs can take the second examination, the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, to gain full PE licensure. The exams are offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (https://www.ncees.org).

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Any experience—such as an internship or volunteer opportunity—you can obtain working at a biofuel-related employer will be useful preparation for the field.

Most bioenergy and biofuels jobs require strong oral and written communication skills to write reports, present materials, and manage staff. Scientists, researchers, and engineers usually work on teams, so the ability to share information and deal with different people is essential to succeeding in this type of work. Some positions may require knowledge of computer modeling, digital mapping, global positioning systems (GPS), and geographic information systems (GIS). Plant managers and product managers need strong organization skills in their work, as well as leadership and management abilities. Engineers will need to be well-versed in computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided industrial design (CAID) software systems. Knowledge of foreign languages can also be extremely beneficial in this field.