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Science: living without oil

Crude oil is currently our most important global source of energy. This course 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. Science: living without oil is one of a series of 100-hour flexible online courses introducing fascinating topics in science. It allows you to learn about this topic just for interest and enables you to try out a new area of study before you commit yourself to further study. You can register and begin this course at any time and will have at least 6 months to complete it.

This is a non-credit bearing version of Living without oil: chemistry for a sustainable future (S176).

Standalone study only

You will not be awarded credits for studying this course. It is available for standalone study only and cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.

Short course

Short course code
SG076
Credits
This is a non-credit bearing course.
Study method
Distance Learning
Short course cost
See Registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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 course you’ll focus on assessing the environmental impacts of these potential alternatives to oil products.

The course 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 course 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 articles, audio and video material. You will also have engaged with some of the fundamental concepts needed to study chemistry.

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

By the end of this course you should be able to:

Demonstrate general knowledge and understanding of some of the basic facts, concepts, principles and language relating to the science and social issues appropriate to the development of alternatives to oil products. In particular, you should be able to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of:

  • the chemistry of oil products and their renewable alternatives
  • some of the key scientific concepts used in the development of alternative energy sources and biomaterials
  • some of the key social and environmental factors influencing decision-makers in relation to the development of renewable alternatives to oil products.

This course will require around 80–100 hours of your time in total, which can be spread over at least 6 months. Register online today and start tomorrow – no need to wait!

The course features the distinctive strengths of The Open University (OU) from its years of expertise in distance learning:

  • The convenience of accessing its clearly presented and sequenced materials, activities and support whenever suits you and wherever you have access to the protected course website – if you prefer, you can print key materials to work on them offline.
  • The support of an expert learning adviser who can clarify study materials, answer questions and help you relate the course to your specific needs.
  • An online interactive quiz that you can attempt as many times as you wish to help you test your own learning.
  • A statement of participation from the OU which you can use to demonstrate your engagement with the course. (N.B. The course does not carry academic credit points.)

Some of the pages within the course contain links to external sites. Accessing these sites is part of the allocated study time for the course. You may also wish to undertake additional background study or reading if some of the concepts introduced are completely unfamiliar to you.

Learner support

Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a learning adviser, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, library, dedicated website and computing helpdesk.

Teaching and assessment

Assessment

There is no formal assessment on the course but you will be able to assess yourself on your factual knowledge through an online quiz that gives detailed feedback to help your learning.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.


    Entry requirements

    This course 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 course 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 ebook 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.

    You can study at your own pace and attempt the online quiz at any time before the end date for the course. Information about the end date is available when you register and will be at least six months after registration.

    If you want to see if this material is suitable for you, try a sample of the study material.

    Register

    Start End England fee Register
    At anytime Flexible - see Entry requirements for more detail £165.00 Register

    Ways to pay

    Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa/Delta or Visa Electron.

    Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

    What's included

    All learning materials, activities and study support are delivered entirely online.

    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 course is delivered online and makes use of a variety of online resources. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs. If you are a new learner with the OU, make sure that you look at our website.