ATI students find success with two-year bioenergy program

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WOOSTER, Ohio — Cody Bower knows his way around the Wooster wastewater treatment plant.

Bower, a 21-year-old student at the Agricultural Technical Institute, has been working at the plant since August of 2013. Before that, he was a student intern.

Now, he holds the position of operator, and is putting the skills he learned in college to use.

Bower is completing a renewable energy degree from the ATI, with a bioenergy specialization. He plans to graduate in 2015, and when he does, he’ll hold an associate of science degree, and be gainfully employed.

“It’s pretty amazing,” the Wayne County native said. “I’m glad I can stay in the area and I’m glad it’s so close to campus, too.”

Skills to work

He’s putting his training to work, including all the lab work, which he now uses to measure suspended solids in the wastewater, and monitor the biological life in the tanks.

The Wooster treatment plant, properly known as the Water Pollution Control Plant, is advancing technologically, with some recent updates by Quasar Energy. The company, which specializes in biodigesters, recently retrofitted the city’s digesters, and is doing some other things at the plant to prepare for the future.

Steve Carathers, plant supervisor, said Bower is the second student he’s employed from the program. He said students from the program are well trained and knowledgeable about the kind of work required in the field.

Way of future

Cindy Mykrantz, 55, is a nontraditional student in the Renewable Energy Program, and holds a part-time job with Quasar as a purchasing assistant. She sees bioenergy as “the way of the future,” and said whatever she decides to do after graduation, “the lab experience is going to come in handy.”

Students in the program have one to two labs per week, and must complete a minimum of 68 credit hours to earn the degree. They can specialize in bioenergy, solar and wind, or both.

Coursework includes the usual college core, and by the second year, students get into classes like “biomass feedstock evaluation and analysis,” “energy transfer and development,” “microbiology,” and much more, including a course designed for the planning and development of renewable energy projects.

Russ Yoder, visiting assistant professor at ATI, said the program prepares students for jobs such as digester operators, lab technicians, wind assistance technicians, compressed natural gas, and sales and marketing.

“Everything we do here revolves around the creation of job opportunity,” he said.

While renewable energy can be promising, the country also finds itself in the middle of another fossil fuel boom — this time from shale gas and oil. The price for crude oil in recent weeks has dropped to below $60 per barrel, and gas prices have slid more than $1 per gallon.

Need both

But Yoder believes renewables still have a bright future — because even with a new supply chain — fossil fuels are limited.

He estimated the consumption ratio for fossil fuels to be six-to-one.

“Doesn’t it make sense to have a plan before you run out?” he said.

Whether graduates go into the biofuels industry, or something like waste management — there’s a strong demand for what they do. Populations are growing, and so are the regulations for how waste is handled.

As Mykrantz puts it, “We’ll never not need those people.”

Further training

Yoder said the ATI is working on curriculum that would provide certification for students who want to become wastewater treatment plant operators, with a company called Operator Training Committee of Ohio. A wastewater operator needs to also be licensed, and can obtain higher classes of licensing based on their education and amount of experience.

Yoder said the ATI program is the only two-year program of its kind that he’s aware of, and said the two-year degree is actually the standard for many of the jobs students there are training for.

“They’re coming out with a two-year degree, where that’s the standard for these areas,” he said. “They’re experts in their fields while they’re in their 20s. Where else can that be said?”

Degree program

The ATI offers degrees with specializations in bioenergy, and solar and wind. To learn more about the Renewable Energy Program, visit greenenergy.osu.edu.

Weather station

The ATI recently received an OSU grant and a donation from Wind Turbines of Ohio, to construct a 100-foot tall weather station tower, which can be later upgraded to a wind turbine.

It will offer an interactive tool for real-time visualization of in-situ climate information to students at Ohio State ATI, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and Columbus campuses of OSU. Construction is scheduled to be completed by May 2015.

Solar panels

Carbon Vision, a renewable energy firm, recently donated a solar panel array to Ohio State ATI. Both fixed and rotatable panels are being installed on the ground for student access and experimental needs.

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Chris Kick served Farm and Dairy's readership as a reporter for nearly a decade before accepting a job at Iowa State University Extension. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University.

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