Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsHello, and welcome to How to Survive on Earth, Energy and Materials for a Sustainable Future. Over the next four weeks, we will introduce you to some of the most exciting materials that have been discovered in the last 30 years-- materials that can generate or store energy, or be used to create energy devices.

Skip to 0 minutes and 27 secondsProfessor Richard Smalley, who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for chemistry for the discovery of one of those materials, used to say, energy is the single most important problem facing humanity today. Solve the energy crisis and you solve all the other problems in the world-- water, food, war, and so on. But is that really true? Would you agree with that? Well, whether you do agree or not, or whatever you believe about the state and future of our world, it is a certainty that the global population will increase by at least 50% by 2050 to over nine billion people.

Skip to 1 minute and 18 secondsIf that population is to enjoy the current minimal global energy usage, an amount of energy that's lower than the average usage here in Australia, global energy will need to double.

Skip to 1 minute and 34 secondsWhile coal can meet this energy requirement for at least the next 200 years, even if oil and gas run out, the resulting carbon dioxide production would increase atmospheric CO2 to levels that have not been seen on the planet for more than 650,000 years. The consequences of this are likely to be catastrophic. Our very survival on Earth will need clean ways of generating and storing energy, using inexpensive new materials to ensure the health and welfare of not only all of you but also the peoples of the world and the planet itself.

Skip to 2 minutes and 22 secondsThis course tells this story, of an emerging energy materials revolution. It will challenge you to think about the materials that we currently use to create energy and why we need to find alternatives. You will be introduced to conducting plastics, extraordinary 2D materials, like graphene, and other interesting materials that can be used to harvest, store, and transport energy or create fuels from the sun.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 secondsYou'll learn how plastic solar cells work, how much better batteries can be made, and why our lives would dramatically change if we could split water, just like plants do. We'll answer the tough questions, such as, can we generate enough energy for our future world without coal, oil, or gas? Can we really run the world on renewable energy?

Skip to 3 minutes and 27 secondsCan we change to sustainable living before we destroy our home with global warming? And, how will new energy materials change our life on this Earth in the next 30 or 50 years?

Skip to 3 minutes and 44 secondsBut like most attempts to develop new technology, exciting laboratory discoveries may not provide the best technology. There are lots of factors to consider, like cost, environmental impact, safety, and the effect on humans that must be considered.

Skip to 4 minutes and 6 secondsCan enough of these new materials be produced cost effectively and sustainably to fuel the planet? We might make extraordinary materials and technology, but can they compete with the current coal fired or nuclear powered electricity generation plants? It's going to be an exciting and revealing four weeks. I hope you enjoy the course, and come to appreciate how the development of some amazing new materials might provide us all with a sustainable energy future.

Welcome to the course

‘How to Survive on Earth: Energy Materials for a Sustainable Future’.

About the Course

Welcome to the course, it’s great to have you with us. In this course, you will explore current trends and emerging technologies to address our growing energy needs that can be supplied in a more sustainable way. As material scientists working in the field for the last few decades, we will introduce topics focussing on materials that have the potential to unlock unprecedented applications for more sustainable energy production.

We will explore some exciting new materials and contrast them with familiar materials that have been in used to date in energy production. Will any combinations of new or existing materials provide us with a clear path to solving our energy needs, which could help us survive on Earth.

If this is your first time learning with FutureLearn, please read the ‘Learning with FutureLearn’ document attached at the end of the step.

Learning with the University of Wollongong

Over the coming weeks, we will consider some of the promising materials for the production of sustainable energy.

Week 1: We will consider the current energy situation. We will look at the types of energy that exist and consider what are the shortcomings with our current ways of energy usage. We will introduce you to the Terawatt challenge.

Week 2: We will explore solar power. How it works and what could the future of solar-generated electricity generation look like? Could plastics play a role in developing cheaper and more efficient solar panels? What are the limitations of solar and how could they be overcome?

Week 3: We will learn about energy storage. Better battery materials will be the key for large scale energy storage. How could such new materials reshape energy usage in our homes, transportation and cities?

Week 4: We will look into the possible future. By better understanding processes such as photosynthesis, can we replicate fuel production using only water and carbon dioxide and sunlight? Is superconductivity the key to sustainable electricity transport and distribution? We explore new materials that we need to have from the examples that Nature teaches us.

Setting Goals

Make sure to set your own learning goals specific to your own knowledge and experience. Every single person comes with their own unique learning goals - the things that made you join the course in the first place. Whether it is to find out more about a topic you don’t know much about through to being an expert in the field - be sure to set reasonable expectations for yourself and work at your own level.


During the course, you will get many opportunities to share, discuss and debate. A course of this nature attracts people with a wide range of knowledge, experience, and expertise. What makes FutureLearn courses so rich is the ability to share knowledge, experiences and perspectives openly. When engaging with the course, remember that there will likely be professionals from the field and general learners alike in the course. Always share your experience and perspectives in a respectful manner. Remember not all students doing this course will have the same experiences and background as you do.

If this is your first time learning with FutureLearn, have a look at the resource attached below.

Conversation Starter

  • Introduce yourself. Let people know why you’re interested in this course.
  • What would you like to get out of the course?

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How to Survive on Earth: Energy Materials for a Sustainable Future

University of Wollongong

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