• University of Exeter

Technology Metals for a Green Future

Learn how critical raw materials are found and used, and explore their role in contributing to a more sustainable future.

3,898 enrolled on this course

  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours

Explore the challenges of metal sourcing for modern, low-carbon technologies.

Smartphones, wind turbines, and electric cars are becoming standard features of modern life and are closely linked to a low-carbon, globally connected future. This has increased the demand for greater quantities and variety of metals to build these products, but access to many of them is restricted due to their geological or geopolitical situation.

On this course, you’ll learn how these metals are used, where they come from, and how they’re sourced. You’ll consider ways to cope with the growing demand and explore the ways in which we can achieve sustainable metals stewardship.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 31 seconds Hello, my name is Frances Wall. I’m a professor at Camborne School of Mines at the University of Exeter. I carry out research on some of the Earth’s most rare and special rocks that contain metals that are now facilitating technological advances in areas such as consumer electronics and the decarbonization of transport. In this course, we’re going to look at these previously little known and even rather obscure elements that have become so essential. We will call them technology metals, and we use them every day without thinking about where they really come from. But they’re the enablers of our digital technologies, renewable energy generation, and low carbon transportation.

Skip to 1 minute and 16 seconds Over the next four weeks, we’re going to be investigating how these technology metals form in the earth and become concentrated into minable deposits, where in the world deposits of these metals are located, how we as geologists find the deposits, and then how engineers and chemists extract the minerals and their metals from the host rocks, and of course, where these elements end up being used. We will consider the environmental impact of obtaining these essential raw materials and explore the possibilities of recycling and the circular value chain.

Skip to 1 minute and 54 seconds The aim of this course is to show the growing importance of these raw materials in our modern world and outline their pivotal role in our global communication networks and in our technologies that help facilitate decarbonization.

Skip to 2 minutes and 37 seconds We look forward to taking you on this journey through the life cycle of technology metals that permeate our modern world.


  • Week 1

    Technology metals for a green future

    • Welcome - big questions and learning objectives

      In this activity we will welcome you to the course and introduce ourselves. Our main focus here is to introduce the big questions and key issues that relate to technology metals and our green future.

    • More about technology metals

      Let's think more about about where technology metals are used around us.

    • Technology metals in manufacturing

      This activity will look at different metals and their use in manufacturing processes. You will have the opportunity in this activity to do some research yourself and report back to the course with what you find out.

    • Critical Raw Materials

      Criticality is a key concept associated with technology metals. In this activity we will consider some of the technological, geological and geopolitical factors that lead to criticality.

    • Progress, reflection and further reading

      Here review your learning from week one, and explore further using the suggested readings and follow-up links.

  • Week 2

    Geology, ore deposits and minerals

    • Mineral resources and ores

      In this activity you will become familiar with how different rock types form and what processes operate to concentrate minerals for technology metals within the Earth's crust.

    • Ore deposits of Technology Metals

      In this activity we will look at particular rock types and minerals associated with ore deposits for technology metals, and take you on a few 'fieldtrips' to look at the some interesting case studies.

    • Weathering deposits

      Weathered deposits can be easier to mine than hard rocks. This activity takes a look at some ore deposits where weathering has an important role in their formation.

    • Minerals of technology metals

      Let's now look at the minerals that are ores for technology metals, and remind ourselves of some of their uses.

    • Progress, reflection and further reading

      In this last activity of week 2, review your learning from this week and follow-up with some of the suggested readings and links.

  • Week 3

    Exploring and production of technology metals ores

    • Finding a mineral ore deposit

      Exploration is an interdisciplinary process. In this activity we outline some of the initial approaches to looking for a mineral ore deposit.

    • Further prospecting

      This activity looks at the steps that can be taken after the data from initial exploration surveys has been interpreted.

    • Mining and mineral processing

      Before a mine can be built it is necessary to design the mine and determine the most appropriate processing techniques for the mineral ore.

    • Next step in the value chain: the product

      What happens to the processed mineral concentrate before it reaches the factory to make a smartphone or battery?

    • Progress, reflection and further reading

      This last activity for week 3 will encourage you to review your learning from this week and follow-up with some of the suggested readings and links.

  • Week 4

    Responsible sourcing

    • Entering the age of metals

      In this first activity of week four we introduce some key challenges and debates associated with technology metal mining and sourcing today, and look at some of the ways in which these are being tackled.

    • Responsible mining

      Mining can be carried out in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Learn more about how this can be achieved in this activity.

    • Ensuring ethical raw materials

      What is the impact of mining? How useful is recycling? This activity looks at ways of assessing, tracking and minimising the impact of mining and ensuring raw materials are obtained in an ethical manner.

    • Progress, reflection, further reading

      Here review your learning from week four and from the course as a whole, and explore further using the suggested readings and follow-up links.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore where technology metals are used in the modern world, and the role that these materials have in a green future
  • Identify and describe different geological settings and rock types where technology metals are found
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the steps required before technology metals can be used in manufacturing, including exploration, extraction of ores and mineral processing
  • Describe and discuss the ways in which technology metals can be obtained responsibly, with minimal social and environmental impact

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in where the raw materials that are used to make modern technology come from, and how these can be sourced in an environmentally and socially sustainable way.

The course will be of particular interest to those working in industries along the critical raw materials value chain, particularly in the design and manufacturing of hi-tech products.

It will also be useful for school or university students looking to deepen their understanding of geology in general and ore formation and technology metals in particular, as well as those with an interest in science, economics, politics or geography, reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the challenges of resource availability and sustainable development discussed in this course.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 689909.

What do people say about this course?

Brilliant course ... easily one of the best.

"Brilliant course… Although I have studied geology before I had not appreciated the complex use of elements in today’s products. I have completed many courses… this course is easily one of the best."

Who will you learn with?

Hello, I am a Professor at Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, working on resources to provide technology metals

Hello! I’m one of the course educators and the HiTech AlkCarb Project Manager. My background is in geoscience research and education. I'm interested in the environmental and social impacts of mining.

Hi there! I'm one of the educators on the course and my background is in geology. My main research area is the study of rare earth element deposits in Southern Africa.

Hello! I am one of the course educators with a background in software development and geoscience education.

Who developed the course?

University of Exeter

The University of Exeter is a Russell Group university. It combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction.

Endorsers and supporters

supported by

Horizon 2020

supported by

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