Low-tech Engineering - a project-based specialisation


In light of today's ecological and social challenges, the "Low-tech Engineering" specialisation aims to train engineers capable of building a resilient and sober world. They will have to design simple objects, systems or services that incorporate technology according to three principles:

  • Useful: A low-tech corresponds to essential needs in the fields of energy, food, water, waste management, building materials, housing, transport, hygiene or health.
  • Sustainable: Resilient, robust, repairable, recyclable. It is eco-designed for optimal ecological and social impact at all stages of its life cycle, from design, production, distribution, use and end of life process.
  • Accessible: Unlike high technology, its cost and technical complexity are not excessive for the majority of the population. Low-tech must be accessible for as many people as possible.

Contribution to sustainable development goals

Learn more about Centrale Nantes' commitment to the 17 sustainable development goals

International students can follow this specialisation, taught in French, via:

  • A double degree programme - Open to international students selected by our partner institutions. Selected students spend two years studying courses from the engineering programme at Centrale Nantes. This usually includes one year of the common-core engineering curriculum followed by one year of specialisation. Double degree students are typically accepted after successfully completing two or three years of higher education in their home institution.
  • The fast-track engineering programme: Open to students with a Bachelor's or equivalent degree in science. Our fast-track programme gives international students who are qualified to bachelor level the opportunity to gain the 'diplôme d'ingénieur' in just two years.
Course Content
Introduction to low-techs (64 hrs)
  • Low-tech approach and eco-design
  • Definition of essential needs, functional and value analysis
  • Methods and tools for environmental assessment and management
  • Carbon accounting and Life Cycle Assessment
  • Circular economy: Reuse, repair, economy of functionality, etc.
  • Meetings with low-tech, circular economy and social economy actors

Low-tech design and manufacturing (64 hrs)
  • 2D and 3D modelling, sketching and simulation (free software)
  • Choice of materials and their implementation
  • Design of mechanisms
  • Manufacturing and prototyping
  • Wood and metal working
  • Electricity, electronics and control systems

Low-tech and scientific expertise (64 hrs)
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
  • Ethical capital, socio-economic and environmental footprints
  • Responsible management
  • Experimentation approaches
  • Engineering skills: development, communication, dissemination, sharing, open source, etc.
  • An advanced module to be chosen from a selection of the engineering programme courses (32 hrs)

Low-Tech Project (400 hrs)

Project-based learning

The students play an active role in their learning where the implementation of prototypes allows them to develop skills. The project consists of equipping the Outremer 5X catamaran with low-tech solutions. A number of systems will be studied and produced:
  • Production and storage of renewable energy
  • Energy consumption monitoring
  • Management of electrical flows, on-board sensors and data
  • Computing and network connections
  • Food preservation and processing
  • Organic matter management
  • Hydroponics

Objectives for 2022/2023:
  • Determine the uses and functions to be adapted on a sailing boat and its interior layout
  • Eco-design solutions based on the low-tech approach
  • Design the selected technical systems
  • Prototype, install and test the solutions implemented
  • Measure the ecological, economic and ergonomic impact of low-tech and reuse
Examples of internships
  • Engineer of ecological transition - Life cycle analysis of the Nepenmäki school (European Forest Institute - Finland)
  • Design of low-carbon building systems in the circular economy (Nobatek Inef4 - Bordeaux)
  • Cradle to Cradle: a step towards the resource paradigm - Application to building (Upcyclea - Paris)
  • Rethinking the role of the engineer in a degrowth society (Cargonomia - Hungary)
  • Experimenting with the limits of sustainable development (PUR project - Paris)
  • Research and development of a mass heater as part of a certification project (APALA - Nantes)
  • Experiment new ways of organising and developing low-techs on a regional scale (ADEME, the Brittany Region and Concarneau Cornouaille Agglomération). Call for applications: https://lowtechlab.org/fr/actualites-blog/territoire-appel-a-candidatures
After the Specialisation

Industry sectors

  • Energy
  • Building materials
  • Housing
  • Transport
  • Food
  • Water
  • Waste management
  • Hygiene
  • Health

Career prospects

  • Circular economy or low-tech engineer
  • Ecodesign or life cycle analysis engineer
  • QSE (Quality Safety Environment), Sustainable Development or Ecological Transition Manager
  • Consultant: Carbon strategy, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)
  • Entrepreneur in the Social and Solidarity Economy or the circular economy

Photo credits: © Low-tech Lab
Published on March 30, 2022 Updated on November 30, 2022