A relatively new industry, biodiesel has seen rapid growth, especially in Texas, in the past few years. As the industry grows and competes with the petroleum and chemical processing industries, it will likely create new jobs in the field that will include construction, feedstock production, industrial chemicals, maintenance and repair, and business services.
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Combining refined vegetable oil or animal fat and alcohol ester, biodiesel serves as a substitute for petroleum-based diesel fuels. A relatively new industry, biodiesel has seen rapid growth, especially in Texas, in the past few years. As the industry grows and competes with the petroleum and chemical processing industries, it will likely create new jobs in the field that will include construction, feedstock production, industrial chemicals, maintenance and repair, and business services. Increasing standardization will create a need for job-specific certifications. Colleges are investigating industry needs and some are integrating educational programs into their curricula; however, caution is warranted due to uncertainty in subsidies as well as feedstock prices and availability.
Although Texas’ biodiesel industry is growing rapidly, this growth has not yet translated to a pronounced demand for technicians trained specifically in biodiesel technologies and processes. There are, however, a few estimates for direct job creation from biodiesel production. According to the most widely used formula, there were approximately 600 jobs in Texas biodiesel plant operations by the end of 2007. The Texas biodiesel industry is experiencing very rapid growth. The demand for technicians may increase as the new industry competes for talent with the petroleum and chemical processing industries. Demand for college biodiesel-related programs is not imminent, but the situation could change given the rapid growth of the industry, depending on the status of subsidies and feedstock prices/availability. A September 2006 analysis of the economic impact of biodiesel estimates that the U.S. biodiesel industry will contribute $24 billion and approximately 39,000 jobs to the economy if biodiesel production reaches 650 million gallons by 2015. At this time, it appears that any future demand for biodiesel technicians could be met through modest additions or adaptations to extant curricula. Many petroleum and chemical processing technician skills, for instance, map to biodiesel as do general laboratory technician skills.
Biodiesel is a substitute for petroleum-based diesel made from a combination of refined vegetable oil or animal fat and alcohol ester. Biodiesel existed before petroleum-based diesel as Rudolf Diesel’s first compression-ignition engine ran on peanut oil.1 Modern biodiesel can be used in most late model (post 1992) diesel engines without modification.2 It can be used in its pure form (100 percent Biodiesel or B100); however, most biodiesel in the U.S. is a 20 percent blend of biodiesel and diesel to achieve cost parity. Elsewhere, particularly in Europe, blends up to B100 are commercially available. Biodiesel can be refined from a number of feedstocks. In Texas, the most commonly used feedstocks are soybeans, cottonseed, palm and canola.3 Much of this feedstock is imported. However, the Texas Emerging Technology Fund awarded a $5 million grant to Texas A&M Agriculture and Engineering Bioenergy Alliance to fund the study of turning switchgrass, cornstalks and woodchips into biodiesel. In February 2008 ETF provided a further $4 million for a joint research project between Texas A&M and General Atomics to study microalgae as a basis for biodiesel.
A September 2006 analysis of the economic impact of biodiesel estimates that the U.S. biodiesel industry will contribute $24 billion and approximately 39,000 jobs to the economy if biodiesel production reaches 650 million gallons by 2015. A majority of these new jobs are anticipated to be in construction (11,700 jobs or 30 percent of new biodiesel jobs) or in feedstock production (23,715 or 61 percent of new jobs). The remaining 9 percent of new jobs would be in industrial chemicals, utilities, maintenance and repair, and business services.4
In July 2007, the American Solar Energy Society conducted a study of potential job growth in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries in Ohio and the U.S. The findings reveal that in 2006 few of the renewable energy-related jobs in the U.S. were in biodiesel. Only 2,750 (1.4 percent) of the nearly 200,000 Americans who work in renewable energy were employed by the biodiesel industry. The only renewable energy sector employing fewer people was solar thermal. For comparison, the wind industry employed 16,000 (8 percent) and photovoltaics 6,800 (3.4 percent).5
Job estimates vary widely, but the most widely used and most conservative estimate for direct biodiesel job creation counts one plant operations job for every 500,000 gallon/year in production capacity. According to the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, Texas is the nation’s largest producer of biodiesel. As of January 2008 the state’s production capacity is 297,850,000 gallons/year. This production capacity translates to an estimated 500 plant operation jobs.
Technical biodiesel jobs appear to be geared toward candidates with advanced degrees. Postings for Biofuels Technical Specialist and Biofuels Project Engineer specified four-year degrees in chemical or mechanical engineering with a preference for graduate training. Two postings targeting two-year college graduates specified the following skills:
(Source: National BioDiesel Board, Commercial Biodiesel Prodiction Plants, Jan 2008.)
U.S. 2007 sales are expected to be $400 million and production capacity will be 1 billion gallons per year. U.S. biodiesel production is anticipated to grow by more than 20 percent per year through 2015. 6 The driving forces behind this aggressive growth are high energy prices, federal incentives and the proliferation of state incentives. According to many studies, biodiesel production costs range from $1.50 to $2.50 per gallon depending on the feedstock, costs that exceed the wholesale price of petroleum-based diesel range from $0.20 to $0.82 per gallon. 7
Much of this rapid growth is occurring in Texas. As of January 2008, of the 148 biodiesel plants operating in the U.S., 22 were located in Texas. In July 2007, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) permitted the largest biodiesel refinery in the U.S. The refinery will be located near the Houston Ship Channel and will have a capacity of 105 million gallons per year. The company, GreenHunter Biofuels, will convert an existing petroleum refinery and expects to be in production by March 2008.8
According to the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, Texas is the nation’s largest producer of biodiesel and the state’s production capacity is expected to double in 2007 to 250 million gallons.
Although there is no direct mention in any of the extant literature, we can assume that the increasing standardization of the biodiesel industry will yield, over time, a need for job-specific certification requirements. The standard for biodiesel in the U.S. is American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) D6751. ASTM standards are not always laws but frequently become so. Minnesota and a handful of other states have adopted this standard for biodiesel as law. Industry certification is under the voluntary quality assurance certification program established by the National Biodiesel Board, BQ-9000. This certification is for companies that produce, distribute and market biodiesel. BQ-9000 combines the ASTM standards with a program that includes instruction on storage, sampling, testing, blending, shipping, distribution and fuel management.9
Educational programs in biodiesel are few, but there is some evidence that colleges and others are acting to fill a perceived industry need. Examples include: West Virginia University, as the host for the National Alternative Fuel Training Consortium, is the hub of a training consortium with members in 24 states that has trained technicians in the biofuels industry. NAFTC takes a train-the- trainers approach and most of their efforts are on training instructors. Tarrant County College (Fort Worth) is the only Texas member of NAFTC. NAFTC has organized a two-day curriculum on biodiesel that covers the following topics:
Central Carolina Community College has developed a 16-week continuing education course on biofuels that includes:
Broad-based education programs in renewable energy technologies can be found at Lane Community College, San Juan College, Sonoma State University, and Madison Area Technical College. However, biodiesel is not necessarily a central part of these curricula.
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