By Jonathan Male
Algae is a fast-growing industry that needs a skilled workforce of scientists, researchers, and engineers to advance algae technology and the commercialization of algal products to support the bioeconomy. With funding from the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) within the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Algae Technology Educational Consortium (ATEC) is developing programs to educate and employ the next generation of algae researchers and to improve skills for those already in the algae workforce.
ATEC is a partnership between community colleges, universities, national research laboratories, and industry leaders, receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) to develop programs to educate and employ the next generation of algae researchers and to improve skills for those already in the algae workforce.
ATEC, launched by the Algae Foundation, is having tremendous success in helping up-and- coming algal researchers to achieve success in the field by creating high-quality algal-based educational programs. These students are quickly finding jobs across the U.S. algae industry. According to the 2016 ATEC Algal Employment Assessment Survey, the algae industry is expected to grow significantly by 2021. This is based on a previous ATEC job survey in algal cultivation, harvesting, and processing, as well as algal biomanufacturing, fermentation, and biotechnology.
There are not enough education programs to prepare students to fill the demand for jobs in the algae industry, so ATEC has developed several ways for students to participate. It also developed two community college programs (algal cultivation at Santa Fe Community College in 2016 and algal biotechnology at Austin Community College in 2017) and produced the Introduction to Algae Massive Open Online Course (Algal MOOC) in 2018, in which some participating students received tangible benefits such as pay increases or promotions. This year, ATEC launched a new free Algae Culture Extension Short-Course (ACES) called Part 1: Macroalgae, designed for those already in aquaculture seeking to learn the basic skills to cultivate seaweeds. ATEC also plans to introduce another MOOC in algae biotechnology and to create a series of online courses in algaculture based at Santa Fe Community College.
Students K-12 also benefit from ATEC’s resources. Since 2017, the Algae Academy has reached approximately 25,000 students in 36 states and one U.S. territory. The Summer Science Institute trains teachers to promote interest in algae-based education through tools like algal kits and to develop skills and knowledge to add to their classroom curriculum. The K-12 Initiative is a five-day curriculum that focuses on many aspects of algae including algae basic biology and ecology, cultivation, sampling, microscopy, data visualization, analysis, and entrepreneurship.
ATEC is providing students with opportunities to jump into algae and related fields including wastewater treatment, fermentation, biotechnology, multitrophic aquaculture, greenhouse horticulture, and plant nurseries. Some graduates have created new companies, which provides job options for other graduates. Other students have earned university scholarships, National Laboratory internships, and positions in algal companies. Various companies have indicated their preferences for hiring ATEC graduates.
For anyone interested in a career in bioenergy, ATEC is an excellent option. Its in-person and online curricula offer outstanding educational opportunities for those seeking to become algal professionals.
Learn about the first graduates of ATEC on the BETO website.
Dr. Jonathan Male is the Director for the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). In this role, he leads the Office’s work to lower costs, reduce technical risk, and accelerate deployment of bioenergy and renewable chemicals technologies. He oversees research and development across the entire supply chain—from sustainable biomass growth and collection to biomass conversion technologies that include biochemical, catalytic, and thermochemical pathways to produce economically viable biofuels and bioproducts. The office’s portfolio of demonstration activities involving public-private partnerships helps BETO staff to evaluate risks and enable industrial entities to move technologies to commercial scale in the emerging bioenergy industry.