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Oswego Career Ladders - Bioenergy

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Bioenergy

The energy stored in biomass (organic matter) is called bioenergy. People have been burning biomass, such as trees and straw, to cook and warm themselves for thousands of years. Today we not only heat 25 million homes with wood, we also produce 10.2 billion watts of electricity (less than 1 percent of what we use as a nation) from wood waste and waste from other biomass. And we derive up to 0.4 percent of all our transportation fuels (about 1.5 billion gallons) from corn, which is used to produce ethanol.

While we have always used wood and other biomass for heat, the production of electricity and fuels has grown from virtually nothing 20 years ago to what it is today, helping bioenergy become second to only hydropower as the largest source of renewable engery in the world. In addition, we use biomass instead of petroleum to produe between 11 to 15 billion pounds of consumer products, including plastics, glues, furniture, paints, and chemicals. But as bioenergy technologies and biobased products stand poised to help achieve energy independences for our nation, the conversion of biomass into fuels and products still remains more difficult than the processes used for petroleum or coal.

Jobs in Bioenergy

Universities, national laboratories, and industry are working together to find solutions to the difficult problems surrounding the production and use of biomass for energy and products. These R&D efforts require chemist, agricultual specialist, microbiologists, biochemists, and engineers, just to name a few. Biofuel, biopower, and biobased product plants are most cost-effective when located near their source of biomass. Thus, bioenergy industry development has a special appeal beacuse it creates direct and indirect jobs in rural areas of the country, and may prove to be a profitable compliment for many existing agricultural and forestry businesses. Engineers and construction workers needed to design and build bioenergy plants, while electrical/electronic and mechanical technicians, engineers (mechanical, electrical, and chemical), mechanics, and equipment operators are needed to run and maintain these plants. Some may even require individuals cross trained in areas such as engineering and biology, or chemistry and agriculture. Jobs in bioenergy today cut across a wide spectrum of specialties and skills.

If R&D and industrial efforts succeed in making bioenergy more commercially profitable, we may see a dramatic increase in the number of bioenergy-related jobs. We'll need more farmers and foresters to produce and harvest biomass resources, more truckers to transport the resources to the power and fuel plants, and more operators to run facilities.

High School Plus Training

Construction Worker - One of the goals of the US Department of Energy’s Biomass Program is to foster a domestic biorefinery industry modeled after petrochemical refineries. Most of these refineries have yet to be built and should this industry expand as is expected in the future, there would be many opportunities for skilled construction workers in areas where these plants would be built. Biomass is expensive to ship long distance so plants would be built near the areas where the raw material would be produced. Agricultural areas and areas where the lumber industry operates would be prime locations for biomass refineries. Average wage for construction laborers $12/hr. Average wage for people in the skill trades $30/hr.

Farmers and Foresters

Bachelors Degree or Higher

 

Biochemist, Agricultural Scientist, and Microbiologist - The conversion of biomass into fuels and products still remains more difficult than the processes used for petroleum or coal. Universities, national laboratories, and industry are working to find solutions to the problems surrounding the production and use of biomass for energy and products. These efforts require biochemists, agricultural specialists and microbiologists. Biological scientists study living organisms and their relationship to their environment. Biochemists combine the study of biology with organic, inorganic and physical chemistry. Agricultural science is closely related to biological science, and agricultural scientists use the principles of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and other sciences to solve problems in agriculture. They often work with biological scientists on basic biological research and on applying to agriculture the advances in knowledge brought about by biotechnology. Microbiologists investigate the growth and characteristics of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, algae, or fungi. Most microbiologists specialize in environmental, food, agricultural, or industrial microbiology. Average salary for biochemists $68,950/yr. Average salary for food scientists and technologists $60,000/yr. Average salary for microbiologists $59,000/yr.

Chemical, Biological, Mechanical and Electrical Engineers - One of the goals of the US Department of Energy’s Biomass Program is to foster a domestic biorefinery industry modeled after petrochemical refineries. These new industries would convert the material that makes up the cell wall of plants (lignocellulose) into a wide range of products, including ones that would otherwise be made from petrochemicals. As with petrochemical refineries, the vision is that the biorefinery would produce both high-volume liquid transportation fuel (meeting national energy needs) and high-value chemicals or products (enhancing operation economics). Chemical, Biological and Mechanical Engineers will be needed to design, develop and implement the processes that will take the “biomass program” from theory into production. Average salary $74,000/yr.

* All wages and salaries based on 2009 statistics.

 

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