In the joint Leiden-Delft-Erasmus minor Geo-resources for the Future, students from the three universities learn about, discuss and debate resources for a sustainable future.
Natural geological resources are used widely on a daily basis. Take the petrol that fuels our cars and buses, the gas that heats our homes, and also applications such as the metals in solar panels, wind turbines, electric motors and mobile telephones. Traditional coal-mining and oil & gas-drilling industries are gradually making way for a society in which sustainable energy plays an important role.
In this minor, students learn to think about how we manage our resources and waste products, while taking account of various factors such as availability, demand, new technology, economics, sustainability, the environment, security and politics.
Technological, geopolitical, macro-economic and social aspects
The technological aspects are not the only important factors in this field; we must also consider the geopolitical, macro-economic and social aspects. To highlight the wide range of aspects concerned, the minor is taught jointly by lecturers from Leiden University and Delft University of Technology and contains modules like:
TECHNOLOGY: What is oil? Where can you find the most important minerals? Which existing sustainable strategies, such as recycling and the use of geothermal energy, are already in development? The module focuses on here and now, a time in which oil, gas and the traditional mining of minerals, such as copper and iron, are still very important.
ECONOMIC ASPECTS: What incentives are there to help get processes off the ground? And what roles do the various stakeholders play in the economic structures that are applied to geo-resources?
ENERGY TRANSITION AND THE FUTURE: How are we doing in terms of exhausting resources and scarcity? Which metals are important to sustainable energy management? And which economic, social, technical and political obstacles will we come up against?
What do teachers and students say about this minor?
Prof. Phil Vardon, associate professor in the Geo-Engineering research group at Delft University of Technology: "Large-scale infrastructural developments and major projects need engineers who can take non-technical aspects into account as well as other team members to take care of the technical side. And we have too few of them. This minor fills the gap and – more importantly – puts students in touch with each other. By examining today's world, we can understand why industry and infrastructure have developed as they have, and learn lessons for the future.’
Carmen Platteeuw, third-year Bachelor's student of Applied Earth Sciences at Delft University of Technology says: "The minor broadened my outlook on resources and the things associated with them. I already knew about the technological side of the Earth, but now I've learned how economics or politics can influence it. The link between sustainable solutions and technology motivated me to choose the Master's programme in Sustainable Energy Technology."
Lucas Mastenbroek, third-year Bachelor's student of International Studies at Leiden University, says: "My background is politics, economics and culture. I learned a lot about the technical side. It was a real eye-opener to realise that good technology doesn’t necessarily equate with progress if you don't think about where the raw materials are coming from and the energy needed to produce them. Is one technology better than another if you look at the impact on the environment?"
"Students learn about the international oil markets and the economics of international oil markets, such as the role that oil prices play in the global economy. And the effect of geopolitics, such as the roles played by Saudi Arabia and Iraq", says Lucia van Geuns, geologist and energy advisor at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, an independent think-tank for national and international organisations.
Social aspects: 'Not in my backyard'
The students also explored the social aspects. Lucas Mastebroek: "Take, for example, the Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) mentality. You can't mine everywhere. The population is voicing its opinion more often, for example in the recent discussions about drilling for gas in Groningen."
Rene Kleijn, Associate Professor and Director of Education, working at the department of Industrial Ecology of the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) at Leiden University, explains: "When it comes to scarcity or recycling, you could say: I'm happy with a solar cell that is less efficient but based on more plentiful resources and therefore less harmful to the environment and easier to recycle at the end of its lifespan. These are things we should be thinking about."
Carmen Platteeuw: "One major advantage of this minor is the fact that students from different programmes work together. I've learned that my fellow-students think in very different ways. This is both challenging and a reality check: you won't always be dealing with like-minded people in the future either, and that's the fun of it."