Assistant Professor of Renewable Energy at New Mexico State University
MY SUSTAINABILITY JOURNEY
My sustainability journey has been long and winding. I started my journey in college, although at the time I did not know it, nor did such a word exist. I pursued a degree in Biochemistry. After graduation I worked for Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts in their water reclamation plants, which recycle wastewater to irrigate lawns and trees. I got a chance to use my science skills to perform water quality testing. While I liked my job, I wanted to apply my chemistry skills to build chemical manufacturing plants. Although I liked chemistry and biology, I excelled at math and physics in school.
Therefore I pursued a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota. After graduation I worked for Minnesota OSHA as a Health and Safety Inspector. I audited manufacturing plants for their safety and health compliance to OSHA regulations. While this job gave me a chance to develop my regulatory compliance skills, a key skill in sustainability, I really wanted to apply my newly acquired engineering skills to build plants.
After couple of years at OSHA, I accepted a job offer as a Project Engineer with an engineering consulting firm, where I entered the field of renewable energy. This was 15 years ago, when no funding existed. We pursued government grants, which are highly competitive.
The first grant I helped win was for $250,000 to do a feasibility study for a major agricultural processing plant to use biomass waste to generate electricity and heat. This plant consumed a lot of energy. We proposed a biomass gasification process to generate synthesis gas which could be burned in an oxidizer to generate lots of heat to make steam to drive a steam turbine. Biomass gasification is a clean and efficient way of burning fuel. We found that biomass could be used to economically generate energy. However, due to lack of funding this project did not go forward.
We applied this learning to a new 100 million gallon a year ethanol plant that a new start-up wanted to build. Ethanol is made from corn, just like beer. The owners wanted to evaluate the use of corn stalks (the portion of the corn crop that is left on the field) and dried distillers grains (DDGS, byproduct of the corn ethanol process) to generate energy. These plants are enormous consumers of energy. I helped to win $750,000 from the Xcel Energy Development Fund to perform pilot trials. We learned that DDGs are a great fuel and corn stalks can be used if material handling issues could be resolved.
What we learned from the above project we applied to an existing 20 million gallons/year ethanol plant. This plant would be our demonstration site which wanted to be self-sufficient by generating its own energy. We won $4 million from various government agencies to build a biomass gasification plant. This equity leveraged an additional $10 million in credit to build the plant. When this plant was built, it would save the owners $2.5 million a year in operating costs with a payback of 4 to 5 years.
All of this experience gave me a liking for business. Therefore, I pursued an MBA. After earning my MBA I worked for a major utility, where I worked in the business development group evaluating the types of projects I was involved in earlier, but from a business standpoint. I did financial modeling and business case evaluations of combined-heat-and-power and biofuels plants, solar, and electric vehicles.
The last couple of years I started a renewable energy and sustainability consulting firm called Sustainability Strategies & Solutions (http://www.sustainability-strategies-solutions.com/). We offer renewable energy technology evaluation, financial feasibility, and project management services. I am an Adjunct Professor of Renewable Energy for DeVry University. I have picked-up a certification in Sustainability Management. Therefore, with a diverse background, I have a broad perspective on renewable energy and sustainability and where the field is going. I love renewable energy and feel it’s got a great future. I encourage you to explore it as well. Come join NMSU and we will train you to be renewable energy experts in this promising and exciting field.
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If you want to find more about me and how I can help you download my official bio below: Amit’s Professional Biography (PDF)