1. Not finding help here? Sign up for a free 30min tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Best/appropiate major for sustainable/renewable energy?

  1. Nov 15, 2008 #1
    what college major is the most related to clean energy field, finding new energy sources or improving existing ones like solar... wind... biofuel... nuclear... and such? probably a bunch of them but Im assuming chemical engineering is the proper one...

    Im thinkking something like coming up with a reliable energy source and starting my own company... teach me, thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 15, 2008 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Chem. E. for the mass and energy balance problems without bankrupting yourself; drawback is that you ain't gonna get enough education in chem. or phys. to do anything useful.

    Did you want to make the big bucks? Or, save the world? Big bucks? Get an MBA and go to work cooking the books for cornahol, or other biofuel scams. That bubble collapses faster than overnight --- it's gonna take nerves of steel to watch every tick of the stock market and bail out before it crashes.

    Save the world? Go aero, and get into the wind turbine game. It's gonna "blow over" expansion-wise once people figure out there are limits to how much drag can be imposed on movement of surface air masses without adversely affecting weather, but it'll be a much more gradual "adjustment" of the market when that limit's reached.
  4. Nov 16, 2008 #3
    All different sorts of fields.

    All of the primary fields of Engineering (Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Chemical) work together in creating the harness for these energy sources.

    However, I would choose Chemical if you want to get into biofuels, and Mechanical for just about everything else.
  5. Nov 16, 2008 #4
    Thanks for the replies, they're helpful. Im not a big fan of mechanical field... no clue why. I guess Im prefer chemical, just wanted reassurance? hehe thanks
  6. Nov 16, 2008 #5
    It really depends on what you want to do specifically. Chemical engineering is a good bet to throw your net wide, but if you decide that you'd rather do fusion for instance then you're in a bad spot.

    I'm not knowledgeable enough about renewable energy to know who generally researches which solutions, though.
  7. Nov 17, 2008 #6
    Interesting! I'm actually very interested in fusion and how to make it possible... I've read the 1st fusion reactor won't be built before 2030! how do I get into fusion coming from chem engineering backgrond or whats the best path to fusion? thanks
  8. Nov 17, 2008 #7
    I believe this is the correct answer you are looking for. Don't go into a specific field just because its related to alternative energy. You can work on alternative energy from just about any field. If you want to go into fusion, I suggest you get your degree if physics from a top ten university.

    I am an ME and my research is in fuel cells. The last job I had was working in wind power. However, both of these fields are very interdisciplinary. I advise you to just choose the field you like the most. But if you ask me I think chemistry (NOT chemical eng.) is going to be the field with the biggest demand when it comes to alternative energy.
  9. Nov 17, 2008 #8
    Fusion is actually what I'm interested in as well (I'm a physics major who hopes to pursue a PhD in plasma physics), so I've looked up a lot about it. There are actually lots of fusion reactors scattered across the globe, but none of them create net energy yet. ITER is expected to create net energy but won't be running until halfway through the next decade if I recall correctly.

    There are probably 3 primary routes to doing fusion research. You can study physics and be primarily concerned with the plasma itself, researching instabilities and transport and all that. You can study nuclear engineering and be primarily concerned with the construction of the reactor itself. Materials engineering is also one of the biggest problems facing fusion reactors. We have yet to create a material resistant enough to the barrage of neutrons from fusion reactions to last for the predicted 40-50 year lifespan of a fusion reactor. This is a very active area of research. There is overlap for all three areas, but I'd say that those are the primary areas each discipline researches.

    If you want to do research a PhD is pretty much a pre-requisite. There are research positions you can get with a Bachelors or Masters, but they are few and far between and the ceiling is very low.

    Physics is probably the most versatile degree you can get as an undergrad if you want to do fusion research. If you decide you'd rather focus on the engineering aspects in grad school, engineering grad schools are much more accepting of physics majors than physics grad schools are accepting of engineering majors. There are exceptions, of course. My current research adviser did nuclear engineering as an undergrad and then got his PhD in physics. Physics is also more risky in the sense that there are very few physics related employment opportunities for someone with only a physics bachelors, but if you finish school with a degree in nuclear or materials engineering bachelors and then decide you don't want to go to grad school you'll be able to find a job.

    I don't think chemical engineers have a lot to do with fusion research, unfortunately. I could be wrong though; I've never looked it up before. But I've never heard of it.
  10. Nov 17, 2008 #9
    There are several programs out there for plasma physics and fusion science that are based in electrical engineering departments. Those are probably your best bet unless you know 100% you want to go for a Ph.D. and you don't think you'd mind teaching. Unfortunately, masters degrees in physics, although impressive to family members and nerd-chasing women, aren't nearly as valuable as masters degrees in electrical engineering.
  11. Nov 17, 2008 #10
    Thanks thanks, Im leaning more engineering... but definitely will try to get as much as I can. Dont think I wanna do a phd, dont like teaching... I think what I like about chemical eng is that is very broad and expanded... thanks for the nfo.
  12. Nov 19, 2008 #11
    ChemE undergrad; Nucl. E grad?

    Let's suppose I do a undergrad as chemE, and right after that (0-2yrs) I start grad for nuclear E... how much overlap between..? is it a stupid move..? Should I even find a job as chemE...? reason is Im interested in both fields...
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2008
  13. Nov 19, 2008 #12
    I think you should do some research as to what chemical and nuclear engineering really is as it seems to me that you don't have a full understanding. You typically find chem. engineers in refineries and manufacturing plants, not developing alternative energy. Nuclear engineering involves a lot of policy, regulation, and codes and in my opinion is rather worthless unless you have a PhD in it.

    Also, I don't believe that chemical and nuclear engineering courses overlap all that much. Sure, they share all the basic math, physics, and fundamental courses but I doubt their depth courses can even be called similar.
  14. Nov 19, 2008 #13
    Strangely, Princeton's Plasma Science & Technology Program is hosted by the Department of Chemical Engineering.
  15. Nov 19, 2008 #14
    That is strange.

    EDIT: Hexnergy. but if you want to know what a typical day is like for most chem engineers. I suggest you communicate with some of them.

    www.eng-tips.com is a good place to do that.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2008
  16. Nov 19, 2008 #15
    Me? No, I don't want to know. No desire to know =)
  17. Nov 19, 2008 #16
  18. Nov 22, 2008 #17
    well now i see why many people dont go to college, its too frustrating and confusing! haha....
  19. Jul 7, 2009 #18
    Good afternoon, I've enjoyed reading all of your writings pertaining to study in related fields. I'm curious about something similar...

    I have an undergrad and master's in chem eng, but now want to get a PhD in Alternative Energy/Resources. Not Environmental Studies, but more science oriented.

    Programs similar to this:

    But I'm looking for more options. Could you help?
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Best/appropiate major for sustainable/renewable energy?
  1. Best major (Replies: 18)

  2. Renewable energy (Replies: 1)