Fuel Cell Engineers
Overview | Related Occupations | Outlook | Helpful High School Courses | Preparation | Related Educational Programs | Licensing/Certification/Designation/Registration | Additional Sources of Information | Back to Green Careers
Fuel cell engineers design and test fuel cell technology to generate power. They use this technology to power everyday items as well as large buildings.
Fuel cell engineers are the people who develop fuel cell technology. While many people have heard of automobiles run by fuel cells, most of us don't know that things such as cell phones or space heaters can also use fuel cells.
When designing fuel cells for a new application, engineers usually work in teams to come up with an overall concept. Some engineers focus only on one part of a fuel cell, such as the assembly, stacks, or other components. They develop prototypes of the technology, often using complicated software. Engineers must decide the purpose of the particular fuel cell, under what conditions it should work, how long it should last, and other criteria. Then, they must determine the best materials for the fuel cell and the best way to test it.
Testing and analysis is a large part of developing a fuel cell project. Engineers use sophisticated instruments and diagnostics to see how well a fuel cell works. Often they use computer models to simulate how a fuel cell works before they test a prototype. In all testing, engineers look to see how much energy a fuel cell puts out, how emissions can be lowered even further, and how to make the fuel cell even more efficient. In the early stages of testing, it is common for prototypes to fail or perform poorly. Engineers analyze several factors to see why the fuel cell didn't perform and make adjustments. Once adjustments are made, engineers repeat the testing process.
In some cases, engineers work to integrate fuel cells with hybrid engines and motors. This means they must have knowledge of combustion engines as well as fuel cell technology.
Fuel cell engineers must have advanced skills in higher-level math and science. They must be proficient in using complicated computer software. They must also be both detail-minded and creative. It is expected that this career will grow quickly as the focus on renewable energy grows. Engineers in this field must constantly read literature and attend conferences to keep up with developments in the field.
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
Hawaii Career Pathways:
- Industrial & Engineering Technology
Analysts expect that the fuel cell industry will continue to grow rapidly. This is due to government incentives and increased consumer interest.
Helpful High School Courses
In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from our state's graduation requirements. Click here for public school graduation requirements for students graduating in 2011 or 2012. Click here for public school graduation requirements for students graduating in 2013 or later. If you attend a private school, check with your school counselor for graduation requirements.
You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.
Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this occupation include:
- Computer Science
- Physical Science
The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.
You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.
Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Click here for examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.
To work as a fuel cell engineer, you must:
- have a high school diploma or GED;
- have a college degree in chemical or mechanical engineering;
- be curious and detail-oriented;
- have strong analytical skills; and
- be creative.
Education after high school
Most students prepare for this field by earning a bachelor's degree in chemical or mechanical engineering. Many four-year colleges and universities offer these programs of study. You may need between four and five years to complete one of these programs. Some two-year colleges have agreements with the engineering departments at four-year schools. These agreements allow you to take your first two years of courses at the two-year college. Then you move to the university for the last two years. Some liberal arts schools have similar programs to prepare you for engineering schools.
Right now there are very few dedicated fuel cell engineering programs of study. As the field grows, it is likely that more courses will be offered to provide college-level training in this area.
Some jobs require a master's or doctoral degree (Ph.D.). For instance, if you are interested in teaching fuel cell engineering at a college you need a Ph.D. Also, many student engineers go to graduate school to specialize or work in advanced positions.
It is helpful to have technical or related engineering work experience. Working as an intern during college is a great way to gain experience.
New workers often learn additional skills on the job. The length of training may vary.
Related Educational Programs:
- Engineering Technologies
Licensing / Certification / Designation / Registration
In Hawaii, engineers (except those employed by the federal government) whose work involves the safety or health of the public must be licensed by the Hawaii board of professional engineers, architects, surveyors, and landscape architects. In Hawaii, licenses are offered in seven disciplines of engineering which include agriculture, chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical, and structural. Licensure requires meeting educational and experience requirements and paying fees.
Additional Sources of Information
- â€¢"Green Careers: Choosing Work for a Sustainable Future" ($19.95 paper cover, p. 368)
By Jim Cassio and Alice Rush, MA, RPCC, MCC
Publication date: 2009
New Society Publishers
Career Information Available on the Internet
© Copyright Hawaii Green Jobs Initiative, LMI Innovation Grant, Research and Statistics Office, Department of Labor & Industrial Relations, State of Hawaii. All Rights Reserved.