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Living without oil: chemistry for a sustainable future

Crude oil is currently our most important global source of energy. This module explores oil’s vital role in the modern world and assesses some of the exciting scientific developments that could lead to sustainable alternatives to oil. Living without oil: chemistry for a sustainable future is one of a series of short, five month 10-credit modules introducing fascinating topics in science. With a choice of start dates it enables you to try out a new area of study before you commit yourself to a longer module, or top up your knowledge and skills between longer modules.

Standalone study only

This module is available for standalone study only. Any credits from this module cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.

1 7 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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I chose to study S176 because the course description presented an unusually specific and pragmatic approach (note the Wolfson Foundation...
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This course discussed the reasons to move from oil as a fuel, and delivered an unbiased and reasonably in-depth look...
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What you will study

Crude oil is currently our most important global source of energy. It is vital in the manufacture of many modern materials. But the world’s supply of oil is finite, its price is unstable and our reliance on oil has damaging environmental consequences. Can we sustainably fuel our transport needs with biofuels, electricity or hydrogen? Can we replace the plastics we derive from crude oil with ones made by microorganisms or plants?

You will explore the properties of crude oil that make it so useful and then use this knowledge to examine some potential sustainable alternatives. You’ll study the development of biofuels; battery electric vehicles; hydrogen as fuel; and the production of biologically derived materials to replace plastics. Throughout the module you’ll focus on assessing the environmental impacts of these potential alternatives to oil products.

The module will demonstrate that while developing these alternatives requires the application of a wide range of different scientific disciplines, chemistry plays a central role in our efforts to replace oil.

By the end of this module you will have developed a range of study skills associated with retrieving and interpreting information and data from a variety of sources, including in the form of tables, charts and graphs, as well as from online articles, audio and video material. You will also have engaged with some of the fundamental concepts needed to study chemistry.

Living without oil: chemistry for a sustainable future is based on a specially written OU study book, together with a website which will link to online study material. The study book will provide questions and answers to help test your understanding, and that you can use for self-assessment throughout the module. Each chapter of the book has a number of associated activities which can be accessed via the website.

This module has been partly funded by the Wolfson Foundation in collaboration with The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Vocational relevance

The module will be of particular relevance to people working in the energy supply industry. Also anyone with a professional interest in sustainable transport, alternative energy, and environmental matters will find the module very relevant.

Teaching and assessment

Study support

You can contact a team of study advisers, through an online discussion forum, who will be able to help you with academic questions to do with the module and the assessment. There will also be an online discussion forum that you can use to get in touch with other students and study advisers.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online system to submit your end-of-module assessment (EMA). 

You will have to submit the single piece of written work for assessment after 21 weeks. There will be no other opportunity to complete the module.

Future availability

Living without oil: chemistry for a sustainable future (S176) starts twice a year – in April and October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2017 and April 2018. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2018.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Essential Documents website.

    Course work includes:

    End-of-module assessment
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    Please note: this module is only available for standalone study. You cannot count the credits you gain from the module towards any current OU qualification. It may be possible, however, to count the credits gained towards a qualification if you are already studying with us and have declared your qualification intention before September 2012 – see your qualification description in StudentHome for details.

    This module does not assume any previous scientific background and teaches the ideas and skills needed as and when they are required.

    You will meet a wide range of scientific and technological subjects in this module and will have to be prepared to understand some basic science: particularly chemistry but also some physics, biology and geology. You will probably find that you can move faster through the study materials if you have a little basic knowledge of general science, especially chemistry. However all you really need is an interest in the issues involved and in learning more about the underlying science

    Mathematically, you should be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide positive and negative numbers and understand the use of brackets in numerical calculations. You will meet numbers expressed as fractions, decimals and using powers (e.g. 103 for 1000). A maths skills e-book is provided to help you with, for example, fractions, percentages, reading graphs and tables, and scientific units as required.

    You should be able to read and understand written English of a style and complexity characteristic of a professional magazine or quality newspaper, and you should be able to communicate your thoughts clearly and comprehensibly in a written format.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


    Start End England fee Register
    06 Oct 2018 See description £488.00

    Registration closes 27/09/18 (places subject to availability)

    October 2018 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time convenient to you.

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2019. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 23/07/2018.

    What's included

    Study book, online audio and video activities, study guide, website.

    You will need

    A basic scientific calculator and access to a digital camera or scanner.

    You may be required to draw diagrams or to annotate diagrams that you download, and then to use either a scanner or a digital camera to produce electronic versions of these diagrams for inclusion in your assessment. Alternatively creating diagrams electronically will be acceptable.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • macOS 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S176 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Overcoming barriers to study if you have a disability or health condition website.