I lost my computer job last year, after 12 years I was getting sick of it anyway :-)
I'm currently getting ready to go back to school to get a BS in Chemical Engineering. My goal is to get involved in biofuel research. I also have a ton of experience in building and maintaining processing equipment, welding, plumbing, electrical, etc... I've also been brewing biodiesel, purifying glycerin, etc... for the past 5 years.
I hope to have my degree in 2 or 3 years, at which point I will be looking for a job, preferably in the biofuels industry. Would anyone care to guess how hard of a time I will have finding a job as a C.E.? I'm in Philadelphia and don't plan to move.
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Guess? Sure, I'm willing to guess, as long as I'm allowed to be completely wrong.
If you're not willing to move, and if there is no new biofuels plant being built in Philadelphia, then you will only be able to find a biofuels job there if you create it yourself. I'd guess that the entire US biofuels industry includes no more than a dozen or two C.E.'s. There might be one in your area, in which case the local biofuels C.E. job opportunities are even less. There are C.E jobs in great demand, but only for a handfull of job openings. The biofuels industry must compete against many other industries that are generally willing to pay better. Also, the biofuels industry is largely built on well understood processes that don't necessarily require C.E. skills to develop, build or operate at present*. I've visited several large biofuels plants, and they have all been large scale versions of homebrewing setups.
Phd C.E's are in demand as plant managers in a variety of industries, with large starting wages (I was once offered $170K by a headhunter, looking for a technical manager for a new solar cell manufacturing plant, until I clarified that I DON'T have a Phd, and am NOT a C.E.). Perhaps there is an industry closely related to the biofuels industry that would need a C.E?
I'll go further out on the limb and recommend that you start looking for your next job NOW. Are you involved in the local biofuels "community"? Are you involved in the local Chemical Engineers Association (assuming there is one)? Are you a member of the National Organization (there is surely a national association of Chemical Engineers, similar to the ASME, SAE, etc)? Join them (students get a discount) and participate in their activities, especially dinner talks - they're an opportunity to meet Engineers who are involved in the local industries, and enjoy talking with people (otherwise they wouldn't go to the dinner talks). They will hear about job openings long before they are posted, and will enable you to develop useful connections and find local advice. Some of that advice will surely be better than anything I can dream up.
Startup companies are fun, but risky, and will eat up every minute of spare time you've got. Well-established companies are boring and bureaucratic, but lower risk.
* I emphasized the present state of the biofuels industry, but you are wanting to find a job in the future. There is tremendous interest in developing "the next generation" technology - is that what you want to do? That's either an area of research, or a new business startup, or academia. Surely there are those sort of ventures taking place locally, at some level. The hard part is finding connections in those activities - they are likely to have just a few people involved, so word won't spread quickly. It might help if you "advertise", that is, stay highly visible and above board. Give talks. Interviews. be very active in local meetings and activities that have anything to do with biofuels, energy, and policy. Especially policy discussions - they seem to attract the truely serious and committed biofuels activists - the kinds of people that start companies. Talk to people who might be competing against biofuels - they may be seriously interested in getting into the biofuels market, only needing a C.E. to make it happen!
And good luck! Keep us apprised of your success.
JThis message has been edited. Last edited by: johno,
I tend to agree with Johno on most points except the first paragraph
Firstly where he says there are only a dozen or two CEs in the whole of the US biodiesel industry, I would dispute this number as being significantly higher. I have worked with a few plants in the US over the last few years and every one has had at least one CE on the books and that does not include the technology providers who at the moment probably have more professional CEs on their staff than they have work for. I have also not been in any large commercial plant that is a larger scale version of a homebrew process (but then I have not been to any below about 15 million gallons per year so that may explain that one). There are many different processes out there the majority of which are designed and commissioned by CEs.
As far as joining the local institute, this is good advice and the best place to start would be www.aiche.org/LocalSections/Find/States/PA.aspx. Join the nearest chapter to you any talk to people before you decide on a Chemical Engineering degree.
Not wanting to move from home may be your biggest problem for future employment as a CE straight out of university. Within the Biofuels industry you will be competing against CEs with Masters degrees (and Phds) and many years experience.
what are you looking for?
creating a job/business?
employment at business?
research into new biofuels?
I know none of these are short/easy answers..if they were the industry would be flooded with people.
if you're looking for research type things..
spend a few weeks reading all the threads here..there are lots of areas that need work.
for example..waste streams? water, glycerin, wood chips, and food stuff in the oil..
I wish I could give more info, but all I think I can give you is more to think about..
I went from the IT/computer world to home repair..and won't look back. at the moment I am the BOSS..
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everything run B100 when its warm enough
Here is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics income and employment numbers (along with some detail) for engineers:
Occupational Outlook Handbook - Engineers
"Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
I'd try to contact a chemical engineer at a local company that's already doing the kind of work that you might want to do. Someone at BlackGold Biofuels might be willing to answer a few questions.
There is a lot more to alternative fuels than just bio diesel, you never know you might discover the next big thing, bio coal or something, good luck.
I'm a Chem E and work for a commercial biodiesel plant. Any chemical plant on the scale of a good size biodiesel plant could use a chemical engineer. Whether they are willing to pay for one is another story.
There are two departments in a biodiesel plant that could possibly provide a job for a chemical engineer. One is obviously as an engineer. My plant has two engineers on staff, though neither are of the chemical variety. The second job would be as a manager in the operations department. You’ll find most of the operations managers above front line supervisor in any chemical/petrochemical plant are chem e’s. This is what I’m doing – working as an operations supervisor. I used to work for one of the big oil companies but got tired of engineering type work (see Dilbert).
Here’s the problem I see for you. None of these plants are all that big, and none will have more than a couple engineers. The engineers they do have are expected to do a lot. Mechanical stuff, process stuff, electrical stuff, project management etc. As a new grad, you won’t be anywhere near ready for all that. I bet I only learned 25% of what I needed to know in school, the rest came from experience and learning from coworkers. My opinion would be to get the degree then spend a couple years on the engineering staff at a chemical plant learning your trade. At that point you would have the skill set that a biodiesel plant would be looking for.
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