Top of Biofuels Class
by Holly Jessen (Ethanol Producer Magazine) Training programs around the U.S. offer opportunities in the biofuels industry for part- and full-time students.
Mick Miller, president of NuVu Fuels and general manager of DENCO II in Morris, Minnesota, also went through the program at Bismarck State. Unlike (Todd) Finneman, who was a nontraditional student going back to school later in life, Miller started the program not long after graduating from a nearby North Dakota high school. Although his original goal was to gain experience working at an ethanol plant and use that to get a job in another industry, that never happened. “Once I got into the ethanol industry, I had no desire to get into an oil refinery or power plant,” he says.
Two years after starting out as an operator at DENCO, Miller worked his way up to a plant manager position at only 21 years old. He and his brother, Mitch Miller, both graduates of the Bismarck State program, were plant managers at the same time. Today Mitch Miller is the CEO of Carbon Green BioEnergy LLC and a managing partner of NuVu Fuels. Over the years, the brothers have hired a number of staff members who have gone through the Bismarck State and other technical programs, Mick Miller said, adding that those students can be difficult to come by since there’s a high demand for workers with technical skills.
The various programs offer different options for students with different needs. Southeast Community College, in Milford, Nebraska, for example, offers students training that can be completed in 18 months. Although some classes are online, the program is designed for students living nearby while completing the program. Southeastern Illinois College, in Harrisburg, Illinois, on the other hand, offers its Biofuels Technology Programs courses all online, so students can take them from any location.
Both programs attract traditional and nontraditional students. John Pierce, program chair of Energy Generation Operations training at SCC, estimated that 70 to 75 percent of students in that program are retooling their careers later in life. Renee Loesche, Building Illinois Bioeconomy, SIC program director, confirms that older students are more common, although some high school juniors have taken it and done well. “Most of our students have advanced degrees and have been working in the industry,” she says. “We’ve had plant operators, plant managers, human resource personnel, bench chemists responsible for fuel testing, veterans looking for a career pathway and those with a general interest.”
In Illinois, SIC is part of a federally funded $9.9 million grant project, called Building Illinois’ Bioeconomy, to develop and enhance training for bioprocessing and water management. SIC, the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center and its host university, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Lewis and Clark Community College, Lincoln Land Community College and Carl Sandburg College have formed a consortium and started work on the project.
As part of the grant, SIC is working to develop self-paced courses that will allow students to earn a fast-track certificate in six months or less, with the same high-quality instruction currently offered in a nine-month program, Loesche says. The goal, she says, is to eventually offer a standardized program that other U.S. schools can access and build on, a model that is already working in Europe. READ MORE