Career Choice: Fuel Cell Engineers

Career Choice: Fuel Cell Engineers
  • Opening Intro -

    Fuel cells are being used to develop alternate transportation vehicles including hydrogen-powered cars.

    The industry is in its infancy with the first mass-produced vehicles expected to hit the market by 2015.

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Fuel cell engineers play an important role in designing, evaluating, constructing and modifying fuel cell components, bringing this emerging technology to the masses.

Duties

Fuel cell engineers use statistical software to analyze fuel cell and related test data. These engineers conduct fuel cell testing, using test vehicles, equipment and instruments to perform their work. Engineers must calculate the efficiency of fuel cell systems, identify problems, recommend modifications, and assess durability.

Fuel cell engineers may be tasked with designing fuel cell systems or a subsystem such as electronics or an electric traction motor. These individuals develop fuel cell materials, test equipment, create prototypes and pinpoint challenges to test vehicles as well as to the infrastructure.

Education

All engineers must possess at least a bachelor’s degree, typically in engineering, to work in this field. Many engineers possess advanced degrees.

A number of universities offer courses specific to fuel cell technology. For example, the University of California, Irvine, through its Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering school provides undergraduate courses such a Combustion and Fuel Cell Systems, Applied Engineering Thermodynamics, Fuel-Cell Fundamentals and Technology, and Energy and Environmental Conflict. Stanford, RIT, Rutgers, Northeastern, and the University of Michigan also offer courses.

Salaries

Salary information for fuel cell engineers is provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median wage for this field was $80,580 per year as of 2012, roughly paralleling what all engineers earn.

Salaries for engineers in the 10th percentile averaged $52,000 per year as of 2012. Those in the 25th percentile earned $64,500, while those in the 50th percentile could expect to earn about $80,600 on average. Salaries for engineers in the 75th percentile came in at $100,600 per year. Top pay of $121,500 was enjoyed by those ranked in the 90th salary percentile according to the BLS.

Wages for fuel cell engineers in Alaska were tops in the nation. Alaska engineers averaged $94,300 per year in 2012 according to the BLS. California at $91,100 per year followed, with Rhode Island at $90,800, New Mexico at $89,600, and Washington at $89,200 per year.

At the bottom end of the salary spectrum, fuel cell engineers could expect to earn $66,600 per year in South Dakota. Montana at $67,600, Wisconsin at $68,100, Iowa at $68,400, and Arkansas at $68,700 per year followed.

Job Outlook

The BLS anticipates growth for fuel cell engineers to come in at 3 to 9 percent for the 10-year period ending in 2020. That’s below the 14 percent average for all jobs.

Job growth may depend much on the advancement of fuel cell vehicle technologies and acceptance. If costs for producing FCVs plummets and demand increases, the future for this field may become quite promising.

References

Summary Report for: 17-2141.01 – Fuel Cell Engineers

US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Mechanical Engineers


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