Report details employment in biofuel, biomass power industries

By Erin Voegele | March 27, 2019

The National Association of State Energy Officials and the Energy Futures Initiative released a report in March that details current employment in a variety of U.S. energy sectors, including ethanol, other biofuels and bioenergy.

The report, titled “2019 U.S. Energy and Employment Report,” analyzes five sectors of the U.S. economy, including fuels; electric power generation; transmission, distribution and storage; energy efficiency; and motor vehicles. Based on a comprehensive analysis of employer data collected during the fourth quarter of 2018, the report finds that the traditional energy and energy efficiency sectors employed approximately 6.7 million Americans, or 4.6 percent of the workforce, last year. Employment in these sectors increased by 2.3 percent last year, adding 151,700 net new jobs, or nearly 7 percent of all new jobs nationwide. The fuels sector alone employed nearly 1.13 million in 2018, an increase of 52,000 or 4.8 percent. Within that sector, woody biomass jumped by 5.5 percent, adding more than 1,700 jobs.

According to the report, corn ethanol fuels employment represented approximately 3 percent of the U.S. fuels workforce in 2018, accounting for 35,055 jobs and adding approximately 500 jobs last year. Within the sector, agriculture accounts for 15,795 jobs; with manufacturing accounting for 9,795 jobs; wholesale trade, distribution and transport accounting for 6,553 jobs; and professional and business services accounting for 2,801 jobs. Together, agriculture; manufacturing; and wholesale trade, distribution and transport accounted for more than 91 percent of workers in the corn ethanol fuels sector, while professional and business services accounted for 8 percent.

Last year, 75 percent of manufacturing employers in corn ethanol reporting hiring was somewhat difficult, with 13 percent reporting hiring was very difficult. Hiring also presented challenges for wholesale trade, distribution and transport employers, with 67 percent reporting hiring was somewhat difficult and 33 percent reporting that hiring was very difficult.

The report shows employers in the corn ethanol fuels sector expect more than 10 percent growth this year, with employers in manufacturing expecting 33.5 percent growth and employers in professional business services expecting 6.2 percent growth.

Within corn ethanol, about three in 10 workers were female, and less than one in 10 were Hispanic or Latino. The industry has a small proportion of Asian, Black or African American workers. The report also shows workers are disproportionately older, with 27 percent of employees over the age of 55, compared to a national workforce average of 23 percent. The report also found the industry employs a very high percentage of veterans, at 21 percent of workers, up significantly from the national workforce average of 6 percent.

The category of other ethanol and non-woody biomass fuels, including biodiesel, employed nearly 2 percent of the fuels workforce last year, providing 20,074 jobs. This included 2,407 jobs in agriculture and forestry; 2,751 jobs in manufacturing; 5,282 jobs in wholesale trade, distribution and transport; and 9,577 jobs in professional business services. The report indicates that most of the employment in professional and business services is likely in research and development.

Data included in the report shows that all employers in the category’s wholesale trade, distribution and transport sector reported that hiring was very difficult.

Employers included under the category of other ethanol and non-woody fuels expected 1.5 percent job growth in 2019, primarily in manufacturing and professional services.

According to the report, nearly a third of workers within other ethanol and non-woody biomass fuels were women, while 13 percent were Hispanic or Latino. Approximately 14 percent were 55 or older, while 9 percent were veterans.

The category wood biomass fuel for energy and cellulosic fuels supported 33,166 jobs last year, accounting for just under 3 percent of the fuels workforce. According to the report, the category added more than 1,700 jobs last year.

Approximately 17,747 jobs in the wood biomass fuel for energy and cellulosic biofuel category were under the agriculture and forestry sector, with 4,549 manufacturing jobs; 1,005 jobs in wholesale trade, distribution and transport; and 9,822 jobs in professional and business services.

According to the report, 71 percent of professional services employers reported it was somewhat difficult to hire. No data was available for agricultural or logging firms.

Woody biomass fuel employers reported expecting more than 8 percent job growth in 2019.

The 2018 workforce for wood biomass fuel included 28 percent women, with 6 percent of workers Hispanic or Latino, 4 percent of workers Black or African American, 24 percent were 55 or older, and 17 percent were veterans.

The report also tracks employment under the category of biomass electric power generation, noting the sector employed 12,976 workers last year. Approximately 591 job were created last year, a 4.6 percent increase in employment. Utilities accounted for 2,029 jobs, while construction accounted for 5,644 jobs, manufacturing accounted for 1,107 jobs, wholesale trade accounted for 558 jobs, and professional and business services accounted for 3,199 jobs.

Hiring was difficult for some industries under the biomass electric power generation sector. Approximately 50 percent of construction employers reported hiring was very difficult, with 38 percent reporting it was somewhat difficult. For manufacturing and wholesale trade, distribution, and transport, 25 percent of employers said hiring was very difficult, with the remaining 75 percent reporting that hiring was somewhat difficult. In addition, 21 percent of professional business services employers said hiring was very difficult, with 68 percent reporting hiring was somewhat difficult.

Employers in the biomass electric power generation industry expect more than 5 percent job growth in 2019, led by the construction and professional services sectors.

The biomass electric power generation workforce includes 32 percent female workers. The sector also employs 28 percent racial minorities. Approximately 24 percent of workers are 55 or older, while 13 percent are veterans.

A full copy of the report is available here.