January 28, 2014

What Next? Biofuel


Shelby: Have you ever thought about what you want to do with your future? Well, in our What’s Next series, we take a closer look at hot jobs in growing fields. Today, we are all about clean energy. Tom Hanson has the details.

Back to the Future II: You’ve got to come back with me? Where? Back to the future.

Tom: In the late 80s film Back to the Future II, the characters refuel their time-traveling car, Mr. Fusion, with garbage. So it is no coincidence that All Power Labs adopted the logo.

Tom Price: One of these days we are going to take a DeLorean and put our own Mr. Fusion in the back and drive it around.

Tom: But while flying skateboards and time travel may still be in the future, biofuel is already here. All Power Labs is a biofuel company based in Berkeley, California, and it is turning out gasifiers, machines that convert cheap and abundant organic material called biomass into clean energy.

Price: The process of gasification takes this biomass and then extracts energy out of it, and the only thing left over is pure carbon, or charcoal, which can then be put back in the ground. This is the only form of carbon negative energy in the world.

Tom: All Power Labs recently used biomass to provide power to a conference in San Francisco.

Price: One of these is strong enough to run about three or four households in the United States, and you’d have to fill it every four hours or so.

Tom: And unlike much of the energy we use, the gasifier is actually good for the environment.

Price: So, you can physically put this in the ground. You’ve done two things: one, you’ve take carbon out of the sky and put it back underground where it belongs. And two, this is kind of like plant crack.

Tom: The biomass can be anything from peach pits, corncobs, pine chips and nuts. And you would be nuts not to consider this business as a future career path. In fact, biofuel is an emerging field with opportunities popping up all over the country.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can do a lot of things with the biofuel industry. Scientists and engineers conduct research and development; construction workers build plants and update infrastructure of the facilities; farmers grow and harvest feedstocks; and plant workers process that stock into fuel so it can be sold.

Price: We take biomass like this and put it in the hopper. It’s heated up in a low-oxygen environment that breaks down the long chain hydrocarbons and releases a vapor that’s full of hydrogen. That hydrogen goes directly into a regular car engine. Turn it on and it works.

Tom: So, if going green is your passion and you want to make a job of it, here is what comes next for you. Construction and farming jobs usually need some sort of training or apprenticeships but not a college degree. Engineers require bachelor’s degrees, but some jobs – like in research and development – may require an advanced degree. If you want an engineering job in biofuels, start hitting the math and science books, especially physics and chemistry. And look for any internship opportunities in the engineering field. That will give you the hands-on experience you need to succeed.

Now, it may sound like a lot of studying, but that hard work definitely pays off. Salaries range from $50,000 to $100,000 a year. And as demand for clean energy increases, experts say, so will demand for skilled workers.

All Power Labs believes clean energy can reverse global climate change, fueling hopes that ones man’s trash will become another man’s power source.

Tom Hanson, Channel One News.


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