Explore Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering

Bioproducts and biosystems engineers apply knowledge of engineering, technology, chemistry, and biology to select the appropriate renewable resources—such as wood, agricultural residues, fiber crops, and other biomass—for producing a wide range of “green” materials, including plastics, building materials, and energy.

Bioproducts and biosystems engineers also develop energy-efficient, economical, and environmentally friendly processes, and equipment for manufacturing these products. They consider the ethical and safety issues surrounding bioproducts as well as their economic impact, and they design sustainable systems that protect the environment, humans, plants, and animals.

In addition to basic science and engineering, they may focus on bioresources, biological/biochemical processes, bio-based products, and biological systems.

  • Bioproducts engineers design and develop engineering solutions for sustainable manufacturing and end-use applications of “green” products, including biofuels, bioenergy, biodegradable plastics, building materials, paper, and chemicals.
  • Environmental and ecological engineers focus on engineering applications to land and water resources, air and soil quality, land-use management, ecosystem services, ecological restoration, and waste management.
  • Food engineers design and develop systems for production, processing, distributing, and storing food and agricultural materials.

*Salary and Career Outcomes gathered from the 2018-2019 CSE Graduation Survey. Post-graduation outcomes reflect the percentage of students who were employed full-time in their field or were enrolled in a graduate program at 6 months post-graduation.

BBE Career Prospects. Average Starting Salary: $60,892; Post-Graduation Outcomes: Employed 77.1%, Graduate School 14.3%, Other 8.6%

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What can I do with a major in Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering?

INDUSTRIES

  • Agriculture
  • Alternative energy
  • Building products/materials
  • Consulting
  • Ecological restoration
  • Ecology/environmental research
  • Environmental consulting
  • Food processing
  • Food safety and security
  • Government agencies
  • Laboratories
  • Law
  • Manufacturing
  • Marketing
  • Public health
  • Pulp and paper products
  • Quality control
  • Renewable plastics
  • Research
  • University laboratories
  • Wood products

EMPLOYERS

  • 3M
  • Andersen Corporation
  • Appvion, Inc.
  • Barr Engineering
  • Cargill
  • CHS Inc.
  • Domtar Paper Company
  • Donaldson
  • Ecolab
  • General Mills
  • Kellogg’s
  • Minnehaha Creek Watershed Dist.
  • MN Pollution Control Agency
  • Natureworks
  • POET
  • Renewable Energy Group
  • The Schwan Food Company
  • Virent
  • Verso Paper
  • Westwood Professional Services
  • WSB/Water Resources Group

TECHNICAL SKILLS

  • Advanced and Basic Chemistry Laboratory Techniques
  • Biology Laboratory Techniques
  • ChemDraw
  • Excel
  • LoggerPro
  • Mathematica
  • MATLAB

POSSIBLE POSITIONS

  • Alternative energy specialist: Designs and installs systems that use renewable energy sources.
  • Bioprocessing/food engineer: Integrates biology and engineering to design sustainable systems that produce high quality food, renewable energy, and biomaterials for consumers while protecting the environment.
  • Bioproducts engineer: Develops sustainable biomass conversion solutions to meet the world’s growing materials and energy demand.
  • Environmental consultant: Offers expert advice to local, state, and federal government agencies and private sector clients who need to adopt environmentally sound practices or clean up contaminated sites.
  • Environmental engineer: Addresses the many environmental and natural resource challenges that affect air, soil, and water quality.
  • Manufacturing engineer: Design, integrate, or improve manufacturing systems and related processes. May work to increase producibility and decrease costs.
  • Process engineer: Develops the series of actions that efficiently and economically make products (plastics, chemicals, fuel, pharmaceuticals, etc.)
  • Product engineer: Plans and develops the tools, processes, machines, and equipment necessary to produce or manufacture products.
  • Project engineer: Leads a group of technical engineers and serves as the contact person to the client.
  • Research engineer: Conducts basic, systematic investigations leading to new knowledge for a specific application that influences the design and construction of prototypes.

**Some of these positions may require an advanced degree.

GET INVOLVED

  • American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers
  • BBE Ambassadors
  • CSE K-12 Outreach
  • CSE Ambassadors
  • CSE International Ambassadors
  • Food and Bioproducts Engineering Organization
  • National Society of Black Engineers
  • Residential Building Science and Technology Club
  • Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers
  • Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
  • Society of Women Engineers
  • Solar Vehicle Project
  • Sustainable Systems Management Club

Q&A with Karissa Horbal, Manufacturing Technology Engineer, Cargill

What do you do?

I lead process improvement initiatives to reduce chemical costs and drive natural resource efficiency, assist in preliminary design of capital projects, supervise the chemical team, participate in root-cause analysis, process risk assessments, and other safety items, and ensure accurate and up-to-date training for the utilities team.

What's a typical work day?

6:45 a.m.—Shift exchange with the technicians, where we talk about how the plant ran the last couple of shifts and prepare permits for the day
7 a.m.—Maintenance meeting with the department, where we go over maintenance items to be completed and assign resources
8 a.m.—Morning meeting with all plant departments, where we go over big-picture plant operations and safety items
9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.—Varies day to day or week to week. I may work on my projects, collect, and analyze data and look for problems or areas of opportunity, hold conference calls with other plants about best practices, safety trainings, install and commissioning of new equipment, etc.

What qualities are important for this position?

To be successful in this position, you have to be comfortable working with other people. You must be organized but flexible, always willing to learn new things, able to prioritize, and able to communicate clearly and openly with your team of technicians.

What about technical skills?

A good understanding of mass and energy balances, heat and mass transfer, statistics, and fluid mechanics.

What training were you offered for your position?

Lots of training! These include safety training, 7 Habits/Covey training, week-long instrumentation and soft-skills training, week-long technical training to familiarize new engineers to the equipment and operations that are common in corn milling, Lean Leader training (I’m a green belt), statistically Supported Decision Making training (green belt), wastewater biology and MBR training, and emergency medical responder training (I’m now certified).

What part of your job is most satisfying?

I really like utilizing lean Six Sigma principles to find areas that can be improved and working with the team to come up with potential solutions. It is also really satisfying to work in the wastewater department and know that we are sending out clean water! Aside from my responsibilities as a manufacturing technology engineer, I get the opportunity to join Cargill “extracurriculars” such as Cargill Operations Resource Network of which I am chair, the Starches & Sweeteners Diversity and Inclusion team, and helping with recruiting!

Most challenging?

The most challenging part of my job would be balancing day-to-day plant issues that come up with my long-term projects and goals.

What are your possible career paths now?

There are many different paths I could go down from this position. I can continue to dive into the technical side of corn milling and become a regional manufacturing technology engineer; I could move into a continuous improvement role; take a supervisor role, or take an engineering research and development role.

Advice for current students?

BBE is a great major! It is quickly becoming a more common major with tons of job opportunities. In fact, Cargill just created a new bio-industrial segment. So, study hard and make sure you network and explore all your opportunities!

Any other advice you'd like to share?

College goes by quickly. So enjoy every moment of it—even the all-nighters of studying. Work hard, play hard, and don’t limit yourself!

Q&A with Collin Smith, Ecological Designer, Applied Ecological Services

What do you do?

Design natural area restorations; incorporating ecological and civil engineering principles to address issues of water quality, environmental degradation, and green infrastructure.

What’s a typical work day?

Using Civil 3D software to prepare construction documents; working with other consultants and construction teams to develop project bid proposal packages; and supervising construction to ensure design standards are being met. 

What qualities are important for this position?

Flexibility, being able to think on one’s feet, multidisciplinary communication, willingness to learn, ability to learn quickly

What about technical skills? 

CAD skills, GIS, knowledge of water resources (hydrology, fluid dynamics, and water quality science), soil science, plant biology, technical writing, networking, public speaking.

What type of training was offered for your position? 

Professional development as needed

What part of your job is most satisfying?

Seeing a project completed successfully

Most challenging? 

Needing to make design changes in-field due to site condition

What are your possible career paths now?

Senior designer, manager, professional engineer

Advice for current students?

In order of importance: Get multiple internships in your desired field, become fluent in CAD, and learn to market your skills.

Any other advice you’d like to share?

You need to be passionate about environmental protection and preservation. You won’t earn as much as other engineers, and it can be disheartening to see environmentally foolish decisions made every day. But it is a highly rewarding field, and one that is rapidly expanding and constantly innovating.

Read more about Collin in CSE’s magazine, Inventing Tomorrow.