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Washington Beat

Washington Beat

Salary boosts slow for engineers

After eight years of fast growth, pay hikes for engineers appear to average about 2.8% this year, bringing a typical annual salary to $62,400. That's indicated in the latest survey by the workforce unit of the American Association of Engineering Societies, headquartered in Washington, DC. The rate of salary raises is much slower than in the past eight years. Last year, for example, compensation grew 6.8%. This 31st edition of the salary survey polled 180 major corporations representing more than 100,000 engineers in 18 experience brackets. It took a special look at starting salaries. Petroleum engineers, it finds, have the highest median entry-level salary at $42,150. Below them are beginning aerospace engineers at $42,000, electrical and electronics engineers at $40,500, and construction engineers at $34,950. The median salary for all engineers out of their undergraduate programs for five years is $42,000.

EPA tightens pollution rules on diesel engine emissions

Federal regulators have toughened their anti-pollution standard for trucks, buses, and other diesel vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also proposes similar treatment for off-road diesel equipment, such as bulldozers, forklifts, logging gear, and some marine vessels. The new rule to reduce nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons from heavy diesel engines takes effect with the 2004 model year. The proposed regulation for off-road engines would phase in, becoming progressively stiffer from 1999 to 2008. The new rule requires engines manufactured in 2004 and later model years to have about a 50% lower NOx level compared with engines meeting the 1998-2003 model-year standard. EPA officials expect that California will adopt most of the proposed standards. EPA notes that its actions are consistent with rulings proposed in Europe. Thus, it contends, most U.S. manufacturers can meet them.

U.S. government picks developer for ultra-clean boiler system

The U.S. Department of Energy will build a "proof-of-concept" power plant that it hopes will bring ultra-clean, coal-fired boiler systems in the 21st century. The agency selected a concept proposed by DB Riley Inc. of Worcester, MA. Construction on the 80-MW plant will start late next year at Elkhart, IL, next to a mine, which will supply the plant with high-sulfur coal. Test operations will begin in early 2001. The project, called the Low Emission Boiler System Program, started in 1992. That's when the Energy Department selected three prime contractors to work independently in designing a coal-fired power plant that would incorporate advanced pollution controls. DB Riley's winning plant design calls for a U-fired furnace that converts nearly all of the coal ash to a glass-like slag byproduct that can be used in construction work. The slag volume is only one-third of the volume of flash that a conventional coal boiler would produce. The furnace will use staged combustion and a concept called "reburning" to reduce the formation of nitrogen oxide pollutants. Flue gas will be further cleaned.

'Platforming' inventor wins $450,000 Charles Draper Prize

The nation's highest and fattest award for engineering goes this year to the inventor of "platforming," a process vital in producing cleaner fuels and materials for modern plastics. Vladimir Haensel, 83, received the Charles Stark Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). This year the biennial prize carries an honorarium of $450,000, its biggest ever. Platforming--short for platinum reforming--uses a platinum-based catalyst to convert petroleum efficiently into high-performance fuels. The process also generates large amounts of aromatic hydrocarbons, the raw materials in plastics. Platforming creates a cleaner-burning fuel, eliminating the need to add lead to gasoline. Because it generates significant amounts of hydrogen, the process removes much of the sulfur and other contaminants from home heating oil, diesel fuel, and industrial fuel oil. Platforming produces fewer emissions in the refining process, too. NAE established the Draper Prize in 1988 to recognize outstanding engineering feats that add to human wellbeing.

Free service gives small firms access to facts on R&D funds

Access to information on more than $1 billion in annual federal R&D funds has become easier for small businesses. Reason: the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy has started a free-mail/fax alerting service. It lists competitive R&D proposals under the Small Business Innovative Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Each year, 11 federal agencies set aside 2.4% of their annual budgets to fund the proposals. The agencies post their pre-solicitations and solicitations individually on separate Internet sites. The new service saves hours of online research by combining all the grant proposal information on a single e-mail or fax, as needed. To find out how to receive the alerts, phone Gary Spanner at (509)-372-4296.

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