Alternative Fuel Vehicle Technology

New alternative fuel vehicles may derive their energy from powerful electric batteries, compressed natural gas or a hybrid of other power sources. Learn about job possibilities, education options and salary potential for this field.

Is the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Technology Field for Me?

Career Summary

The field of alternative fuel vehicle technology offers a variety of career options, from professionals creating the technology to the technicians who repair vehicles. As an alternative fuel vehicle, or AFV, technician, you would be concerned with diagnosing problems and providing repair and maintenance service on a new class of engines and components. While still attending to conventional, gasoline-powered vehicles, you would also possess knowledge of the complexities of lithium storage batteries, electric circuitry, hydrogen fuel cells or other alternative fuel systems. You may be involved in retrofitting vehicles so they can operate on compressed natural gas instead of gasoline. Propane, also known as liquefied petroleum gasoline, is less-polluting than gasoline and would require that you add a fuel system to an internal combustion engine, giving the driver the option of using either fuel.

Specializations

If you're interested in creating or refining alternative fuel technology, then you may wish to work in the field as a scientist or engineer. For example, if you want to improve the efficiency of lithium ion batteries used in electric or hybrid electric vehicles, you might become a research chemist, exploring the theoretical basis of chemical reactions. Alternatively, in chemical engineering, you would provide a more concrete perspective in designing and testing components that create and house the chemical processes in the automobile itself. With an interest in the unique circuitry of electric vehicles, you might consider becoming an electrical engineer.

To refine fuel cell technology, which converts hydrogen into electricity to power a car, bus or truck, you could choose either materials science or materials engineering. If you want to work with agricultural-based alternative fuels, such as ethanol made from corn, then you could choose a career as an agricultural scientist.

Salaries and Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you could expect growth in employment for all professions in the field of alternative fuel vehicle technology (www.bls.gov). Although no data is available for salary specific to this field, the BLS reported that automotive technicians overall earned a median salary of $36,710 as of May 2013. Median salaries for scientists and engineers who might work in the field can vary. For example, chemists in general earned a median of $72,350, while chemical engineers earned $95,730, both in 2013.

How Can I Work in Alternative Fuel Vehicle Technology?

Education Programs

A good start on your career path to being an alternative fuel vehicle technician is pursuing a certificate program or an associate's degree program in automotive technology with a specialization in an alternative fuel technology. However, due to the complexity of the new technologies, you may want to start with an associate's degree program in science or a bachelor's degree program before moving on into more advanced graduate degree study. Automotive manufactures also provide training for technology specific to their vehicles.

Graduate Studies

For a career that involves original research and development, you would be required to obtain a graduate degree, whether it is in the field of chemistry, materials science, agricultural science or a field related to agriculture, such as biology. It may be possible to find employment in support positions with a bachelor's degree, but you would need a master's degree in order to obtain specialized knowledge and a Ph.D. to do independent research. For an engineering profession, you may need a graduate degree, such as a master's degree or Ph.D in chemical engineering. To become an electrical engineer, you could start with a bachelor's degree in electric engineering or earn a master's degree in the same field after undergraduate study.

Certification

The National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) offers classes on specific fuel technologies at several technical and community colleges around the country. Regardless of the path you choose, your education would prepare you for obtaining the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification, which is particularly important for seeking employment at dealerships and more prominent repair shops (www.ase.com).

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