The Green Side of Heavy Industry

Story by Bill Kovarik

Workers at Pesco-Beam in Roanoke, VA complete work on a molecular sieve. Photo courtesy of Pesco-Beam,

When most people envision green jobs, they see recycling, ecotourism and solar panels.

Luke Staengl, president of Pesco-Beam in Roanoke, Va., sees cellulosic biofuels, methane and hydrogen gasification, wood pellet manufacturing and other large-scale renewable energy production projects.

“The prospects are spectacular for green jobs in this region,” Staengl said.

For about 15 years, chemical engineers at Pesco-Beam have been making truck-sized units for recycling used chemicals that would otherwise have been thrown away. The units have pipes, process vessels, valves and instrumentation. For an industry that was previously disposing of leftover varnish or other chemicals, recycling saves money and decreases pollution.

These days, with increased interest in green energy, Staengl envisions a network of decentralized biofuel and renewable energy system that will help create a less centralized economy.

“We need more jobs and a more diverse economy,” Staengl said. “I think it’s hugely important that we have a much more diverse and decentralized job market.”

The kinds of jobs to be created in the biofuels and renewable gas industry will include instrumentation and process energy technicians, biochemical engineers and mechanical engineers, Staengl said.

One of the main barriers to building regional bioprocessing facilities is the lack of financing, so Staengl hopes that stimulus money will help create local investment mechanisms working with state governments.

“We’re creating jobs, reducing the carbon footprint, reducing waste and unhooking from dependence on Middle Eastern oil supply, which has cost us a huge amount of money for the past 50 years,” he said.

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