What is Alternative Energy Engineering?

D. Jeffress

Alternative energy engineering is the practice of designing new systems that create or use renewable fuels. Dedicated engineers work closely with chemists and physicists to discover methods of producing clean energy. They invent new technologies and make improvements to older systems, such as converting construction and manufacturing equipment engines to run on biodiesel fuel. The goal of alternative energy engineering is to reduce consumers' dependence on limited oil resources by providing reliable, clean power options.

A ship going through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam. Civil engineers design and help build public structures like dams, which can provide renewable hydroelectric power.
A ship going through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam. Civil engineers design and help build public structures like dams, which can provide renewable hydroelectric power.

Effective alternative energy engineering requires the cooperation of experts from many different disciplines. It is common for physicists, chemists, and microbiologists to team up with mechanical, chemical, and civil engineers on a typical alternative energy engineering project. Project managers set budgets and deadlines, drafters and technical writers create important documents, and safety supervisors ensure worker health and environmental protection.

Alternative energy engineers might design or work to improve wind turbines.
Alternative energy engineers might design or work to improve wind turbines.

An alternative energy engineering project usually begins with intensive research into emerging fuels and production technologies. Scientists might investigate the potential benefits of energy derived from solar, wind, water, or geothermic resources. They may also experiment with hydrogen, biodiesel, biomass, and ethanol fuels. When deciding on new fuels, scientists consider their efficiency, cost of production, and environmental friendliness.

Biodiesel may present an alternative to traditional diesel fuel.
Biodiesel may present an alternative to traditional diesel fuel.

Engineers work to create new facilities to harness or produce an alternative form of energy, and new vehicles and systems that can make use of it. Chemical engineers design blueprints for nuclear and power plants, and civil engineers develop plans for hydroelectric dams and wind turbines. Expert mechanical engineers are often involved in the design of solar panels, batteries, and fuel cells.

Hydroelectric power generating stations like the Hoover Dam produce electricity without the use of fossil fuels.
Hydroelectric power generating stations like the Hoover Dam produce electricity without the use of fossil fuels.

The conception of new vehicles that run on biodiesel, ethanol, or electricity requires the collective input from many different engineering experts. Workers rigorously test prototypes before applying for patents or marketing their systems to make sure they are safe, efficient, and reliable. Introducing a new type of vehicle can be difficult, since power stations or services must be readily available for drivers. Engineers and scientists design refueling stations for ethanol, electrical power stations, and refilling plants for hydrogen cells.

From conducting initial research on energy sources to implementing a new technology on a large scale, an alternative energy engineering project can last several years or even decades. Projects are often very expensive, and researchers typically receive their funding from alternative energy corporations, government agencies, or oil companies that want get involved with the new market. Future studies and engineering products will continue to improve alternative energy technologies and reduce the global dependence on nonrenewable resources.

Engineers are involved in the design of solar panels.
Engineers are involved in the design of solar panels.

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