For chemists searching for areas of job growth, look no further than green chemistry—the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances.
Many U.S. companies are going green. For example, General Electric in 2007 invested $1 billion on eco-friendly R&D, and the company plans to spend another $1.5 billion by 2010, according to an October 2008 report in New Scientist.
Smaller companies are active as well. At a recent Bioneers Conference, researchers from Novomer, a next-generation eco-plastics company based in Boston, reported on its family of high-performance, biodegradable plastics and other chemicals that are made from renewable substances and designed for a variety of industrial uses.
Federal and state governments are also promoting efforts to expand green chemistry. For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has expressed her desire to incorporate green jobs into any economic stimulus plan passed by Congress. “Central to the job creation issue is the strong piece for rebuilding the infrastructure of America, in a way that reduces our dependence on foreign oil and that creates good green jobs in America,” she said in news reports.
Indeed, green chemists are finding jobs with pharmaceutical companies, environmental groups, waste management firms, and the biofuel industry. Among the most active areas for workers looking to enter green chemistry are alternative energy, the development of replacements for petroleum-based products, and environment remediation to remove contaminants from soil and water.
One particularly hot field is the development of better fuel cells to power vehicles—especially research into catalysts that can make fuel cell technology feasible. “Material science is a critical part of the hydrogen economy. That’s a rich area for chemists,” Robert Farrauto, a research fellow at BASF Catalysis Research, told New Scientist in October.
For years, the ACS has promoted this branch of chemistry, especially through its Green Chemistry Institute. Among its upcoming activities, the institute will hold its 13th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference on June 23-25, 2009, in College Park, Md. See the ACS website for more information about the institute and its activities (www.acs.org/greenchemistry).
When it comes to job searching, though, help may be as close as your local news station, according to a recent Web report on Green Career Central (http://www.greencareercentral.com/public/399.cfm). Reading and watching news reports with a careful eye may give you a better picture of what’s affecting the green economy in your local area—and, in turn, what areas may hold growing job prospects.
Another Green Career Central report offers a more broad-based picture of how to prepare for and find green jobs in chemistry and elsewhere (http://www.greencareercentral.com/public/416.cfm). Among the recommended steps are understanding the emerging landscape of the Green Economy, determining your green focus and the steps you can take to build on that focus, and immersing yourself in your targeted industry or profession.
— Tom Burroughs is a freelance science writer based in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Watch for the ACS Industry Forum Teleconference for April with featured Guest Speaker: Dr. Berkeley “Buzz” W. Cue, Jr., Founder and President of BWC Pharma Consulting, LLC. Dr. Buzz Cue is the former Vice President of Pharmaceutical Sciences with Pfizer Global Research and Development in Groton, Connecticut, where he spent 29 years before retiring in April of 2004. While at Pfizer he created and led Pfizer’s Green Chemistry initiative. Dr. Buzz Cue will share is background and experience in green chemistry.