While to many, the subject of cleantech appears to be something esoteric, in reality, cleantech touches every aspect of our lives that science and technology touches. See this post and this for some dope on how cleantech is already part of many of our lives and business.
Today, all the core engineering streams such as mechanical, electrical and civil stand to benefit significantly from the growth of cleantech sector. For instance, the growth of solar and wind power has provided diverse opportunities to mechanical, electrical, materials and civil engineers.
But it is not just the core engineering subjects that can contribute to cleantech. Many niche science and technology streams too have significant potential to contribute.
In this context, biotech students and professionals can benefit significantly from the cleantech revolution as well, and at the same time can contribute significant value.
Some of the opportunity domains for biotech students and professionals in cleantech are:
- Biomass energy – biomass based heating and power generation
- Biofuels – biodiesel, ethanol and other biofuels such as biogas and bio-based liquid fuels
- Biopolymers and bioplastics
The first two are fairly large industries already, though the biofuels sector is currently going through a challenging phase.
The biopolymers/bioplastics sector is in a very nascent stage, but holds enormous future potential given the harm plastics are creating to land and marine environments the world over.
The opportunity spectrum, in terms of roles and job functions, could comprise:
- Field jobs such as installation and maintenance – this is more relevant for biomass energy projects. Even undergraduate and graduate students in biotech will be able to find openings in these types of opportunities.
- R&D careers – this is a large opportunity spectrum currently, with R&D opportunities opening up in fields of all the three above-mentioned fields – bio-energy, biofuels and bio-materials. R&D opportunities are available both at the university research level, as well as at the research labs of medium and large industrial firms. You will need to typically have at least a Master’s degree, and preferably a PhD, for successfully contributing to this category of opportunities.
- Engineering and scientific analyses of specific aspects within bio-energy and bio-materials – some of these could be more desk-based research and analyses rather than lab-based research. Such analyses might also require interactions with the market to understand its needs. I have seen undergraduates being selected sometimes for this category of opportunity, though a Masters Degree in Science or Biotech could be more preferred for this.
A year after I started dabbling in cleantech, I was interested in doing research into algae-based biofuels. To add some technical strength in my team, I recruited a girl who had just completed her Masters in Biotech. One thing led to another, and I soon had almost a team of 10 youngsters with biotech backgrounds working with me. While many of them have since moved on, I am glad to see a good number of them still working in fields related to bio-energy and bio-materials.