Green Transportation Careers
Exploring this Job
There are many ways to explore green transportation careers and technology. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy offers a good overview of alternative fuels and vehicles at https://afdc.energy.gov/fuels. Read books about green transportation. Another way to become familiar with the field is by learning industry-related terms. Visit http://www.afdc.energy.gov/glossary.html for a list of terms that are commonly used in the green vehicle industry. Consider taking a test-drive in a vehicle that uses alternative energy. Visit the Web sites of major automakers to learn more about these vehicles, and visit your local automotive dealer with your parents to take a test drive.
There are also many government-sponsored educational activities that teach people about alternative fuel resources and green transportation technology. In partnership with the North American automotive industry, the U.S. Department of Energy sponsors a variety of advanced vehicle technology competitions. Visit https://avtcseries.org to read about past and current competitions.
Consider participating in the Shell Eco-marathon, in which student teams from around the world compete to design, build, and drive ultra-energy-efficient vehicles. Visit www.shell.com/energy-and-innovation/shell-ecomarathon.html to learn more.
Green transportation professionals are employed in a variety of industries. The field can be divided into four main employment categories: Engineering and Design; Manufacturing; Vehicle Repair and Green Technology Use; and Transportation Planning.
Engineering and Design
Alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles are specially designed and manufactured vehicles that create less pollution, use renewable fuels (for all or some of their power), and get better gas mileage than vehicles that use gasoline or diesel as their primary fuel. The U.S. Department of Energy defines alternative fuel vehicles as "a dedicated, flexible fuel, or dual-fuel vehicle designed to operate on at least one alternative fuel." It defines an advanced technology vehicle as one that "combines new engine, power, or drive train systems to significantly improve fuel economy." Types of alternative fuel vehicles include all-electric vehicles, flexible fuel vehicles, natural gas vehicles, propane vehicles, and diesel vehicles (that use biodiesel). Advanced technology vehicles include fuel cell vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Visit https://afdc.energy.gov/fuels for an overview of alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles.
Green vehicle designers are specially trained industrial designers who have a combination of technical knowledge of mechanics, production, and materials; artistic talent; and knowledge of eco-friendly design techniques and materials. They use these skills to improve the style, appearance, and ergonomic and aerodynamic design of green vehicles. Vehicle designers use hand sketches and computer-aided industrial design software to create vehicle and component designs. They might also create models by using wood, metal, clay, and other materials.
Green vehicle engineers are employed by car, truck, and bus manufacturers and parts suppliers to design and build green vehicles or individual components. They may work with the vehicle’s engine design, aerodynamics, fuel source (electric, gasoline and ethanol, hybrid electric, ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen fuel cells, natural gas, or propane), performance and fuel efficiency, safety features, ergonomics, and more. Engineers typically have backgrounds in chemical, electrical, mechanical, or materials engineering.
Materials scientists design vehicle components that can hold up to mechanical and environmental stresses.
Chemists and biochemists develop alternative fuels that aim to replace gasoline and diesel fuel.
Green vehicle engineering technicians use their knowledge and skills in engineering, science, and mathematics to help vehicle engineers and other professionals in the research and development, quality control, manufacturing, and design of green vehicles or specific systems and components.
In addition to working with road-based vehicles, engineers, scientists, designers, and other professionals also work to create aircraft, trains, and ships that are more fuel efficient, create less pollution, and that are constructed with more environmentally friendly materials. One example is Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which the company says uses 20 percent less fuel for comparable missions than today’s similarly sized airplanes. Much of this fuel efficiency has been attained by using composite materials (which are much lighter than traditional materials) in as much as 50 percent of the aircraft’s primary structure. Finally, the company saved money and reduced its environmental footprint by integrating new manufacturing techniques and industrial engineering principles into the production process. Boeing reports that by manufacturing a one-piece fuselage section (instead of multiple sections), it eliminated 1,500 aluminum sheets and 40,000 to 50,000 fasteners.
Vehicle manufacturing workers are the people who work in the parts production and assembly plants of vehicle manufacturers that produce green cars, trucks, and buses. Their labor involves work from the smallest part to the completed vehicles. Parts include advanced internal combustion engine components, electric traction motors, electronic controllers, turbochargers, advanced battery and fuel systems, traction batteries, and smart charging systems. Manufacturing workers read specifications; design parts; build, maintain, and operate machinery and tools used to produce parts; and assemble the vehicles. Workers in this specialty include precision machinists and metalworkers, computer-controlled machine tool operators, assemblers, electrical and electronic equipment assemblers, welders, welding machine operators, floor or line supervisors, inspectors, and industrial production managers.
Industrial engineers use their knowledge of various disciplines—including systems engineering, management science, operations research, green manufacturing techniques, and fields such as ergonomics—to determine the most efficient and cost-effective methods for industrial production of green vehicles and their components. They design systems that integrate materials, equipment, information, and people in the overall production process.
Vehicle Repair and Green Technology Use
Vehicle service technicians maintain and repair cars, vans, small trucks, and other vehicles that run on gasoline, electricity, or alternative fuels. They may also work with vehicles that have new engine, power, or drive train systems that improve fuel efficiency. Using both hand tools and specialized diagnostic test equipment, they pinpoint problems and make the necessary repairs or adjustments.
Fueling infrastructure installers and repairers install and maintain electric, hydrogen, and other types of fueling stations that are located throughout communities for use by green vehicle owners.
Green transportation planners, sometimes known as environmental planners or sustainable transportation planners, develop public transportation systems and infrastructure that contribute to the sustainable development of communities. They also work with government officials to introduce alternative-energy-fueled public transportation vehicles (such as electric- or hydrogen-powered buses) to city fleets, as well as promote alternative forms of transportation such as walking and bicycling. They help implement the infrastructure—such as bike racks, bike paths, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, carpool systems, fueling stations, sidewalks, and bus shelters—to encourage people to use green transportation resources. Transportation planners work mainly for government agencies, overseeing transportation planning of a community, while keeping in mind local priorities such as economic development and environmental concerns.
Support workers perform clerical duties; supervise workers; manage computer databases; oversee advertising and marketing campaigns; respond to press inquiries; maintain records; educate the public about green transportation; and do many other tasks. Secretaries, receptionists, customer service representatives, advertising and marketing workers, media relations specialists, personnel and human resources specialists, lawyers, accountants, information technology workers, and educators are just some of the types of support workers who are employed in the green transportation industry.