Emerging Energy Researcher


Emerging energy researchers use scientific means to investigate and develop environmentally sound sources of alternative energy. They work on a variety of projects and different potential energy sources, for example wind energy, solar energy, and hydroelectricity, as well as more obscure sources, such as geothermal energy, which harnesses heat produced in Earth’s interior, or biomass energy, which comes from recycling waste products. Emerging energy researchers have a range of educational backgrounds, but all share creativity and the skills required to investigate new ideas to find technically sound and financially viable energy sources.

Man working upon wind turbine, over 80 meters of high in a wind farm.

At a glance

Imagine you are hard at work in a busy laboratory, carefully recording readings from the equipment in front of you and jotting down your observations. You are an emerging energy researcher and your lab is part of the research and development division of a large oil and gas company. This company is investing millions of dollars in energy research as part of its long-term business plan because it knows that the environmental and economic costs of fossil fuels will rise and inevitably the world will run out of non-renewable resource reserves. It has built dozens of labs like yours to investigate viable alternative energy sources.

As an emerging energy researcher, you are always on the cutting edge when it comes to new fuel sources or new ways to generate electricity. Your current project, for example, is investigating the viability of processing agricultural by-products to produce energy.

You have been interested in this possibility for years, ever since you learned Canada produces more than four billion tonnes of agricultural animal waste products each year. You and your team of researchers started theorizing how you could use the leftover turkey and chicken carcasses from processing plants as a fuel source. You designed and built a mini-reactor that mimics nature’s own biochemical process that converts organic material into fossil fuels under conditions of extreme heat and pressure over millions of years. Your reactor controls these conditions and reduces the conversion scale from millions of years to only a few hours. It’s a two-step thermal process that results in usable fuel.

In addition, the thermal process you designed is itself 85% energy efficient, generating its own energy and using the steam naturally created by the process to heat incoming material. With more testing and feasibility studies, your mini-reactor could become a viable and environmentally friendly way of using recycled waste to produce fuel.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an emerging energy researcher:

  • Evaluate, select, and apply standard scientific techniques, procedures, and criteria to explore and develop emerging energy sources.
  • Conduct extensive research into energy sources and the processes used to generate energy
  • Design and perform experiments and collect data.
  • Analyze and interpret data and prepare reports, including the publication of research results.
  • Select or make recommendations for appropriate solutions for emerging energy technologies, including recognizing the limitations and interdependencies of emerging energy sources.
  • Visit emerging energy generation or conversion sites.
  • Contribute information and enhance education on emerging energy issues.
  • Communicate clearly with colleagues and stakeholders, including groups with technical and non-technical backgrounds. 

Work environment

Emerging energy researchers work in a variety of locations, including:

In the lab:

  • Conducting experiments and recording data and observations
  • Organizing and maintaining samples
  • Maintaining records of procedures, data, and observations

In the office:

  • Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Researching literature and preparing reports and scientific papers
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, colleagues, and other scientists
  • Researching new technology and advancements in alternative energy
  • Designing experimental protocols and procedures

In the field:

  • Conducting in situ experiments
  • Collecting samples

Where to work

There are a number of places emerging energy researchers can find employment. They include:

  • Colleges, universities, and research institutes
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Environmental consulting firms
  • Biotechnology firms
  • Firms in other industries, for example oil and gas, forestry, and agriculture
  • Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
     

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as an emerging energy researcher, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an emerging energy researcher is a university graduate degree.  

If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an emerging energy researcher, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Bioresource Engineering

Certification is not mandatory for emerging energy researchers, but many practitioners choose to belong to professional or industry associations.  
 

Role Model

Devron Kobluk

"A lot of people take for granted that they have clean air, clean water, and an endless supply of energy. It was the misconception that there was this endless supply of these natural resources that interested me most,” recalls Devron Kobluk. This interest, coupled with 20 years of living on a farm, convinced Devron to pursue a degree in environmental studies.

Now, armed with an undergraduate degree in environmental studies, Devron is almost finished his master’s degree in rural development and is working full-time with an alternative energy company in Manitoba. As an emerging energy researcher, Devron spends much of his time at his desk researching alternative energy policy and legislation and "seeing how alternative energy is developed in different places.” He also searches out different sources for biomass energy (energy produced from organic matter), including solid waste, forestry waste, or agricultural waste. "We’re looking for an organic source that can produce hundreds of tonnes of continuous waste a year to be considered a viable energy source.”

On the business side, Devron is instrumental in developing business plans and helps in the economic planning for the burgeoning alternative energy company. He enjoys the combination of job responsibilities and is well equipped for them. "I have the background in the environment that I need to do the research, plus I have the skills from my master’s to complete the business and economic planning.” 

Despite his training, Devron says the amount of information about the industry can sometimes be overwhelming. "The [quantity] of information is directly related to how fast this industry is developing.” He relies on his combined business and environmental skills to sift through the vast quantity of information that comes across his desk. And he doesn’t see the level of information or interest in his industry decreasing any time soon: "With the price of oil at an all-time high, people are looking for cheaper forms of energy.”