Environmental action groups are back in vogue. The young have become involved in protect groups such as “Fridays for Future” and have demonstrated real determination in bringing the movement’s troubled conscience to the wider society. Hot topics such as climate change and biodiversity are now very much in the media limelight and this is having a real influence on why school leavers are opting for a particular study course.
At the same time global demand for energy and raw materials continues to grow and the task remit that falls to the engineers working in this field has now gone beyond the provision of adequate supplies of energy and resources. New spheres of activity such as sustainability, environmental compatibility and the conservation of resources are becoming increasingly important and have become a growing focus for research and development work.
The degree courses in raw materials and energy at RWTH Aachen University, Aachen/Germany, have been adapted to match the evolving social and technological requirements (Figure 1). There is a real need for future-proof strategies on the supply of energy and natural resources – a very responsible task that also presents an extremely exciting challenge for the engineers of the future.
The new Bachelor’s Degree course “Sustainable Resources and Energy Supply” has got off to a great start
The new Bachelor’s Degree course “Sustainable Resources and Energy Supply” at RWTH Aachen University, which replaces the outgoing Bachelor’s course “Raw Materials Engineering”, got off to a very successful start in the winter semester 2018/19 with 146 incoming students enrolling on the programme. This trend has continued at the beginning of the winter semester 2019/20 with 161 new students enrolling on 5th November 2019.
The course of study is spread over six semesters and is devoted to the sustainable provision of sufficient sources of energy and to the environmentally compatible extraction and utilisation of the natural resources that are required. In order to meet mankind’s growing need for natural resources improvements are needed to the methods used for the exploration and extraction of primary raw materials, though even with better technology there will still be only limited resources available. This makes it all the more necessary to drive ahead with the development of new technologies for the recovery and reprocessing of these crucial materials – with “recycling” now very much the word of the moment.
Finding a suitable raw material remains key to energy supply. Here the much maligned fossil fuels continue to play a role that is just as important as that of renewables. Coal, gas and oil on one side, and biomass, solar energy, wind and water power on the other (Figure 2) – all have a vital contribution to make towards meeting basic supply needs. And with Germany edging ever closer to the phasing-out of nuclear energy we now need the best possible mix of both the permanently available resources and the intermittent forms of energy. This obviously requires efficient extraction and processing methods along with intelligent recycling systems.
In addition to its basic engineering and subject-specific content the new degree course “Sustainable Resources and Energy Supply” will from the third semester on also offer the following three specialisation options:
- Mining with a focus on
- raw materials production
- resource management;
- energy resources;
- mine surveying;
- mineralogy; and
- Recycling with a focus on
- raw materials and recycling;
- energy resources;
- emission reduction;
- thermal waste treatment;
- geology; and
- Energy with a focus on
- energy resources;
- energy technology;
- fluid mechanics;
- experimental design; and
- process engineering.
The mandatory selection modules also include a large subject catalogue that can be used for setting personal priorities.
In addition to theoretically based subjects the course naturally includes various practical sessions aimed at offering vital insights into, and contact with, the professional world. This includes, e. g., a 40-day internship that can be completed either in Germany or in another country.
Germany is not alone in valuing the provision of secure and clean energy and raw materials, for new strategies to this effect are being developed and researched all over the world. This means that students taking the “Sustainable Resources and Energy Supply” course also have an opportunity to acquire experience at international level. The ERASMUS+ Mobility Programme allows undergraduates to spend one or two semesters at a number of European partner universities during their Bachelor Degree studies and RWTH Aachen University also has collaborative ties with leading universities outside Europe, including establishments in China, Russia, the USA, Thailand, Brazil, Australia and Canada.
Excellent career prospects for graduates from RWTH Aachen University
The career prospects for engineers trained in natural resources, recycling and energy now appear to be very good indeed. True all-rounders with a proficiency in natural resources and know-how in energy production are now urgently needed both in Germany and around the world.
Graduates from RWTH Aachen University have excellent career opportunities not just in the extractive and primary processing industries (Figure 3) but also with supplier companies, planning and engineering offices, water and energy utilities, waste disposal and recycling companies and even with banks and insurance firms. Mining authority departments are also looking for qualified recruits who, after a period of traineeship, will be equipped to take on the public service role of Underground Mining Assessor. Similar occupations would also be open in administration and policy making at local community, federal state and national government level.
On graduating with the Bachelor’s Degree students can opt for academic specialisation by taking a Master’s course in “Sustainable Energy Supply” or “Raw Materials Engineering” with “Sustainable Underground Utilisation” also soon to be available as an English-language Master’s Degree. These Master’s courses will pick up and expand on the content of the Bachelor’s programme and aim to develop a solid specialist profile that is very much in demand on the labour market.
Broadly positioned – the Master’s Degree course in “Sustainable Energy Supply”
The Master’s course in “Sustainable Energy Supply” is aimed at Bachelor Degree graduates who have completed various engineering and scientific studies, such as “Sustainable Resources and Energy Supply”, “Raw Materials Engineering”, “Mechanical Engineering” and “Electrotechnology”, and who want to take advantage of the fullest possible training in raw materials technology. The course provides an opportunity to treat energy supply as a complete cycle from raw material extraction through to power distribution. This means not only becoming familiar with the raw materials themselves but also learning about the processes used for electricity generation and for its distribution from producer to user.
The Master’s course “Sustainable Energy Supply” has a modular structure and comprises four semesters in all, with the third semester focusing partly on vocational activities and the fourth semester being dedicated to preparing for the Master’s thesis.
The study content of the Master’s programme is based on various themes connected with raw materials technology, including:
- planning of energy production plant;
- technological impact assessment;
- resource characterisation;
- renewable energies;
- fuel processing;
- energy management;
The three University faculties Mechanical Engineering, Electrotechnology and Information Technology, along with Georesources and Materials Technology, all play a part in the inter-Faculty Master’s Degree programme. The thematic focus of the Master’s course also includes supplementary specialist content from the fields of mechanical engineering and electrotechnology. Here a wide range of options is available to enable students to select personal preferences and in this way to introduce a measure of flexibility to the structure of the course.
Practical application given top priority – the Master’s Degree course “Raw Materials Engineering”
The Master’s course on “Raw Materials Engineering” is intended not only for graduates of the Bachelor’s course on “Sustainable Resources and Energy Supply” but also for those who have completed other engineering and scientific specialities. The study course provides an overview of properties of the different raw materials (Figure 4) and covers themes such as occupational safety, geodata management, the marketing of the extracted resources and legal and economic fundamentals – an interdisciplinary study programme that very few degree courses are currently able to offer on this scale.
The Master’s Degree programme has a modular structure and comprises a total of four semesters, with the third semester focusing on vocational activities and the fourth semester being reserved for preparing for the Master’s thesis.
The Master’s course allows students to choose between two specialisations, namely Mining and Recycling. The content of the Master’s programme is built on the solid knowledge base of the Bachelor’s Degree course.
The core elements of the “Mining” specialisation are based on the following subject areas:
- Sustainable raw materials production
- mechanical engineering;
- mine design and simulation;
- drilling and blasting;
- mine ventilation.
- Mine surveying
- digital mine plans;
- remote reconnaissance and surveying;
- engineering surveys;
- Mineral processing
- special processing techniques;
- processing plant and equipment;
- physical chemistry; and
- process control engineering.
The portfolio also comprises mandatory modules on raw materials, sustainability and law, while the elective modules include various management skills and subjects such as mine planning, mining economies and responsible mining.
Raw material engineers who will be working in the recycling sector tend to specialise in the following areas:
- thermal waste treatment;
- metals recyclin;g
- environmental analytics;
- business administration;
- waste management; and
The elective modules here include subject areas such as raw material characterisation, metals recycling, chemistry and process engineering.
The Master’s Degree course “Sustainable Underground Utilisation”
Underground space planning and the final disposal of radioactive waste now represent major cross-generational challenges and in this respect rank alongside raw materials production, drinking water supply, energy storage and thermal water utilisation.
A unique feature of the planned English-language study course is that it will collaborate closely with the Specialist Group for Geology and Geography and with the Jülich Research Centre and will also engage external lecturers with practical experience in the field. The four-semester Master’s programme is suitable for national and international graduates with Bachelor degrees in fields such as sustainable resources and energy supply, earth sciences, applied natural sciences and engineering sciences.
The first two semesters will be given over to the teaching of subjects such as earth sciences, resources engineering, physics/mathematics, materials sciences, waste management, legal studies and planning. The third semester will be set aside for mobility placements, internship or research work and the fourth semester will conclude with a practice-based Master’s thesis.
Shaping the future
When it comes to energy and raw materials, therefore, RWTH Aachen University is very well placed to help initiate the upcoming transformation processes that will be needed in business and society. Some 900 students have now enrolled on the study courses organised by the Specialist Group for Raw Materials and Waste Disposal Technology – a body of well-trained young professionals whose know-how will be highly sought-after at both national and world level. This is certainly one branch of industry with a very long production run ahead of it.