Environmental impact

`Green’ disciplines emerge with demand for new energy technologies

By Laura S. Jeffrey – [email protected]

Wesley Henderson didn’t know much about the environment while serving as a combat engineer during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

“I didn’t know about global warming,” he said. “I didn’t know about deforestation, desertification — about pollution and any of the other major issues.” But when Henderson left the Army in 1992 and became a full-time college student at Humboldt State University, an environmentally-oriented college in northern California, his eyes were opened.

Henderson became “traumatized” by trends in the environment, but he turned his alarm into action.

He’s now one of a growing group of professionals projected to account for 3 million new jobs over the next 10 years.

Henderson completed his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1996 and took a job as staff researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“Los Alamos had a fuel cell program,” Henderson said. “I drove out there and asked for a job. They liked that.”

He worked on direct methanol fuel cells and electrochemical capacitors — “things that might go onto an electric car,” Henderson said.

He later earned a doctoral degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Minnesota and was an assistant research professor at the Naval Academy before joining North Carolina State University as an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering last year. Henderson and his team are conducting research into using ionic liquids in conjunction with polymers to revolutionize the design of the lithium battery.

They’re also studying cellulose as an improved biofuel for use in future fuel-efficient vehicles.

There’s no question that the environment is a big issue these days.

A March Gallup poll found that a significant percentage of Americans is worried about air and water pollution and global warming — more than half in some categories. A Yale University study, co-conducted with GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media, found that a majority of Americans support policies to combat global warming, including local regulations such as tax incentives for private citizens and corporations to incorporate “green” ideas into new construction projects.

Environmental concern is translating into job growth in green-related industries. Online job sites such as Ecojobs.com and Environmentalengineer.com offer hundreds of listings for people on the eco-friendly job hunt. The Labor Department doesn’t measure occupations in terms of greenness, but one “coalition of business, labor, environmental and community leaders”, the Apollo Alliance predicts 3 million new “green-collar” jobs over the next 10 years.

If you’re looking for a job, a college degree “is very helpful” in this field, said Tom Simpson, a mechanical engineer and former police officer who served as an Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. “But you don’t necessarily have to have a degree.”

Simpson is regional director for IBC Engineering’s Tampa, Fla.-based Southeast operations. The company specializes in environmentally sensitive and sustainable mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire-protection systems, recently providing engineering services for the Chicago Center for Green Technology.

If you don’t have a degree, there’s still a good chance that you could qualify to be a project manager, superintendent or on-site construction manager, Simpson said. You just have to find a company with an environmental emphasis.

“There’s a valid market out there,” Simpson said. “Service members have tremendous opportunities to lead and manage at a young age. They’re more disciplined, and that’s very, very important in today’s job market.”

Henderson foresees opportunities in the energy industry in particular. Competitors to coal and oil are moving into the energy market, including solar energy, wind energy and fuel cells.

“Energy is catching on right now in a big way, and I don’t think that’s going to go away for the next 20 years,” Henderson said.


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