Training the Workforce: 12 Educational Programs for the U.S. Bioeconomy

  • Published on February 9

A prevailing theme echoed in numerous reports advocating for the expansion of the domestic bioeconomy is the critical need for a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce.

“The development of the domestic bioeconomy hinges on the availability of a diverse, well-informed, and proficient workforce," states the U.S. Department of Energy.

As the bioeconomy sector continues to evolve, it opens a plethora of opportunities for individuals at various career stages—from recent graduates to seasoned professionals and specialized technicians—to engage in meaningful and innovative work within the bioindustrial sphere.

Reflecting on the importance of education in this field, the Chair of UC Berkeley's Master of Bioprocess Engineering (MBPE) degree program highlighted the diverse applications of bio-based production:

“From the bio-based production of pharmaceuticals to sustainable chemicals, fuels, and food products, the industry demands a comprehensive understanding of biochemical engineering design and development. Success in this field requires a solid foundation in biochemistry, molecular biology, and chemical engineering, coupled with practical skills in transitioning technologies from the laboratory to pilot and commercial scales.”

While educational programs across a broad spectrum of disciplines, including chemistry, biology, forestry, engineering, and agronomy, provide foundational training for careers in this sector, there are a growing number of comprehensive and sometimes advanced courses and degree programs tailored to equip students for various roles within the burgeoning bioeconomy.

These programs are invaluable for those looking to make their mark, whether in startups or established companies, offering insights into various career paths and levels of engagement.

Let's dive into these 12 unique training and educational opportunities for the bioeconomy sector.

Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University

Overview: The Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State stands as a premier institution in bioeconomy research, focusing on renewable fuels, energy, chemicals, and materials derived from agricultural resources. It takes a holistic approach, studying the entire value chain from plant breeding to processing and economic policy.

Key Features:

  • Collaborations: Partnerships with innovative companies and federal agencies ensure students are at the cutting edge of bioeconomy research and development.
  • Facilities: The institute is known for its world-class laboratories and the BioCentury Research Farm, offering unparalleled resources for students to engage in thermochemical conversion studies.
  • Outreach: Through workshops, tours, and collaborations, it fosters a sustainable bioeconomy ecosystem, encouraging stakeholder engagement and knowledge sharing.

Discover the Bioeconomy Institute

Kansas State University: Bioprocessing Courses

Courses: Kansas State University's curriculum includes "Fundamentals of Conversion of Biorenewable Resources" and "Fundamentals of Bioprocessing," each designed to equip students with a solid foundation in bioprocessing principles.

Educational Approach:

  • Coursework: Detailed exploration of mass and energy balances, fluid dynamics, heat and mass transfer, and microbial growth kinetics provides students with a comprehensive understanding of bioprocessing.
  • Industrial Relevance: The inclusion of industrial bioprocessing case studies ensures students can apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios, bridging theory and practice.

Montana State University: Sustainable Food & Bioenergy Systems

Program Focus: This interdisciplinary program addresses the ecological, cultural, economic, and health aspects of food and bioenergy systems, preparing students to become agents of change.

Program Options and Goals:

  • Diverse Specializations: Options include Sustainable Food Systems, Agroecology, Sustainable Crop Production, and Sustainable Livestock Production, catering to various interests within the bioeconomy.
  • Comprehensive Curriculum: The emphasis on ecological sustainability, combined with practical agricultural knowledge, equips students to tackle food system and bioenergy challenges.

Explore the SFBS program

Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC) at NC State

Location: Situated at North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus, BTEC offers a unique blend of education and training in biomanufacturing.

Facilities and Affiliations:

  • State-of-the-Art Equipment: The center's facilities include a main building and an annex, both equipped with industry-standard biomanufacturing equipment and a simulated pilot plant.
  • Collaborations: As a founding member of BioMADE and affiliated with CESMII and NIIMBL, BTEC is at the forefront of advancing biomanufacturing science and technology.

Visit BTEC

Oregon State University: BioResource Research Undergraduate Major

Program Description: The BioResource Research (BRR) program offers an interdisciplinary biosciences major focusing on sustainable use of biological resources, backed by a significant research component.

Educational Highlights:

  • Research-Centric Curriculum: Students engage in mentored research experiences across agricultural, biological, chemical, environmental, food, or health sciences, fostering in-depth knowledge and innovation.
  • Customized Learning Paths: The curriculum allows for personalization based on research interests, ensuring students develop skills relevant to their future careers.

Learn more about BRR

UC Berkeley: Master of Bioprocess Engineering

Program Aim: Designed to fill the expertise and experience gap in the bioprocessing field, this program integrates theoretical knowledge with practical applications, emphasizing industry internships.

Program Highlights:

  • Industry Integration: Collaborations with biotechnology companies provide hands-on experience, preparing students for the challenges of bioprocess design and development.
  • Advanced Facilities: Access to state-of-the-art bioprocessing equipment and the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit enhances learning outcomes.

Discover the MBPE program

University of Minnesota: Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering Major

Focus: This program addresses the societal demand for sustainable materials, food, and energy, emphasizing renewable resources and environmental enhancement.

Program Features:

  • Specializations: Offers paths in Bioproducts Engineering, Environmental and Ecological Engineering, and Food Engineering, providing a broad spectrum of career possibilities.
  • Integrated Degree Program: An accelerated Bachelor and Master Degree program allows high-achieving students to advance their education efficiently.

Explore the major

Mississippi State University: Department of Sustainable Bioproducts

Program Overview: Focused on sustainable bioproduct manufacturing, this department at Mississippi State University is dedicated to educating students on the efficient utilization and conservation of forest and other natural resources.

Key Aspects:

  • Curriculum: Students explore the manufacturing of wood and fiber-based products, studying their physical and mechanical properties, environmental implications, and market dynamics.
  • Flexibility: Offers concentrations in business or science to tailor education to career goals, including an accelerated program for undergraduates to earn graduate credit.

Learn more about Sustainable Bioproducts

University of Washington: Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE) Major

Program Description: This ABET-accredited program combines chemical sciences and engineering principles to develop sustainable products and processes from biomass resources.

Educational Highlights:

  • Comprehensive Training: Students receive in-depth instruction in chemical and physical sciences, and chemical engineering, with a focus on biomass-based manufacturing.
  • Dual Degree Option: Offers the opportunity to pursue a double degree in BSE and Chemical Engineering, broadening career prospects in manufacturing, technical service, and environmental engineering.

Visit the BSE Major

University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Biological Systems Engineering

Program Focus: Specializing in Food and Bioprocess Engineering, this program provides a thorough understanding of how engineering principles apply to the science of energy, food, and agricultural processes.

Program Insights:

  • Industry Alignment: Prepares students for careers in food production, biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and related industries through an innovative curriculum.
  • Advanced Studies: Offers nationally-ranked graduate programs, welcoming a wide range of academic interests, from agricultural technology to biofuels and watershed protection.

Discover the Biological Systems Engineering Program

University of Arizona: Biosystems Engineering Programs

Mission and Vision: Aiming to be a world leader in developing technologies for the sustainable use of arid and semi-arid environments, the Department of Biosystems Engineering offers comprehensive undergraduate and graduate programs.

Program Highlights:

  • Diverse Specializations: Includes Biosystems Engineering, Biosystems Analytics & Technology, and a Pre-Health Track, focusing on areas like biometry, controlled environment agriculture, and water resources.
  • Innovative Solutions: Emphasizes training students to address global food security challenges, utilizing sustainable solutions for societal, environmental, and economic benefits.

Explore the Biosystems Engineering Programs

Dakota Bioproducts Innovation Institute (DBII)

Future Initiative: The upcoming POET Bioproducts Institute at South Dakota State University symbolizes a significant investment in bioeconomy research and commercialization, aiming to establish a cutting-edge facility for bioproducts innovation.

Collaborative Efforts:

  • Funding and Support: Backed by a $5 million donation from POET, $20 million in legislative funding, and additional contributions, this initiative represents a major collaborative effort in the state.
  • Research and Commercialization Focus: The institute will serve as a hub for enhancing research and commercialization in the bioproducts industry, fostering innovation and sustainability.

Stay updated with DBII

These educational programs across the United States exemplify the breadth and depth of opportunities available for students interested in the bioeconomy.

By blending rigorous academic training with practical, real-world experience, these initiatives are preparing a new generation of professionals ready to tackle the challenges and opportunities of a sustainable future.

Each program, with its unique focus and strengths, contributes to a comprehensive ecosystem that supports the growth and development of the bioeconomy, ensuring a resilient and sustainable future for all.

Did we miss something? Contact us if you know of courses or programs we should consider for this resource!

Next Up: We'll look at educational opportunities in Europe! Stay tuned..