• 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.

Technology Metals for a Green Future
  • Duration4 weeks
  • Weekly study4 hours
  • LearnFree
  • Extra BenefitsFrom $54Find out more

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 secondsHello, 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 secondsOver 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 secondsThe 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 secondsWe look forward to taking you on this journey through the life cycle of technology metals that permeate our modern world.

What topics will you cover?

  1. Technology metals, what are they used for?
  2. Importance: what makes a raw material critical?
  3. Geological resources: where are they found?
  4. Extraction: economic, social and environment considerations
  5. Value chain: from extraction to manufacturing
  6. Future: responsible sourcing – Materials stewardship – Circular economy

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

  • Available now

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… 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.

Richard Getliffe

Who will you learn with?

Frances Wall

Frances Wall

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

Kate Smith

Kate Smith

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.

Edward Loye

Edward Loye

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.

Peter Frost

Peter Frost

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.


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