Sustainable Cities, MSc in Engineering

Academic content

Academic content

The degree offered is Master of Science in Engineering (Sustainable Cities). The courses and the project work are carried out in English. Therefore, the programme is open to Danish as well as international students with a relevant Bachelor of Science degree in engineering or equivalent. All courses are offered at the Copenhagen campus. 

It is a priority for us that you have the opportunity to work with external partners, for instance in your semester projects, which can be carried out in cooperation with authorities, companies, NGOs, etc. This way you get to work on real life problems, preparing you for your professional career.

The Sustainable Cities programme is focusing on the developed cities where the programme’s first two semesters are focused on four infrastructure sectors as well as synergies across these sectors. We look at the possibilities and barriers cities and regions have globally to create sustainable futures, and options to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is also a course module on the theories of science and research design, examining the processes of knowledge production and claims about the objects of inquiry. Within each of the infrastructure courses, tools, theories and methods are introduced that may also be relevant to apply for other sectors or across sectors. Cross-disciplinary courses address the cross-sectoral concerns. The courses for each infrastructure use a stepwise approach:

  1. Mapping the sector (e.g. CO2 amounts, water amounts)
  2. Sustainable engineering solutions (e.g. waste water basins, recycling, district heating)
  3. Implementation and planning (e.g. mapping the markets, policy change and/or economic assessment)
  4. Opportunities / challenges (e.g. new jobs, risks, health)

The courses aim to inspire students to understand the environmental and sustainability challenges and problems, to use and understand different technical solutions, tools and approaches, as well as to understand how these can be implemented and planned for in order to create transition pathways for cities, analytical tools,  etc. The teaching mainly includes lectures and workshops. Students can apply their skills as well as the tools and approaches in the  project work.


Semester 1

Waste management, resources and energy planning in sustainable cities

The first semester includes the project report, the theories of science and research design course, and focus on two infrastructures: resources and energy planning. The students are introduced to problem based learning through the project module and gain valuable theoretical knowledge about scientific work and research processes. We focus on two sectors that are central in the transition towards sustainable cities and address questions such as: how to improve resource efficiency and circular economy; and how to design and implement 100% renewable energy systems.

Project report

Each project group chooses a topic for their semester report within the theme of the semester of waste management, resources and energy planning. The topic can be primarily theoretical or empirical, and usually takes its point of departure in a specific urgent environmental sustainability problem or challenge perhaps touching upon a policy and involving one or more organisations. Our aim is to understand how planning can promote a sustainable transitions within already existing systems. 

courses at the 1st semester:

transitioning from wasteful to sustainable cities (5 ECTS)

The aim of the course is to introduce how the energy and material flows of cities (urban metabolism) can be analysed and to provide students with both an overview of the waste management strategies, technologies and tools applied as well as the necessary engagement of actors and changes of institutions in order to develop more sustainable cities.

Circular economy and urban metabolism give more attention to the resource flows in the city and to a more integrated understanding and planning of these flows in order to create a smarter, resource efficient, and low-carbon city. A sustainable city is restorative and resilient by design and founded on renewable energy. The products, materials and resources are longer lasting in order to reduce the generation of waste. As hubs of economic activity and innovation as well as of material consumption and resource use, cities are particularly well for studying circular business models, planning and governance.

The course presents tools for assessing resource use from a waste planning as well as a life cycle assessment perspective in cities. A more specific focus will be on the need for changing current waste management strategies and systems in order to minimize and slow resource use and increase recyclability and resource recovery. The traditional waste hierarchy is outdated, or rather waste prevention and product reuse really have to take priority instead of just material recycling and energy recovery.

energy planning for sustainable cities (5 ECTS)

The course aims to provide a basic understanding of the challenges that cities face today in terms of providing more enduring energy infrastructures and supporting sustainable everyday practices. An Energy planning frameworks is presented for the students to allow the students to work with models for city energy planning. The students are introduced to energy consumption and use tools for measuring and understanding the drivers behind energy consumption and what potentials exist for increasing energy efficiency and lowering demand.

We discuss which challenges the transition towards a 100% renewable energy system meets and strategic energy planning. Topics include planning for new renewable energy technologies on different organization levels, analysing their impact on the functioning of the established energy systems in cities, and assessing the need to include all energy-intensive sectors such as transport, industry, households etc., and how consumption patterns influence the energy use. The students are introduced to the advanced energy systems modelling tool EnergyPLAN, to enable them to model complex energy systems and assess impacts from increasing renewable energy, energy efficiency or changes in transport technologies.

The course aims to enable the students to cope with the complexity and challenges that the energy transition poses. We examine which challenges the energy infrastructure sector faces in order to move towards more sustainable cities. Navigating within different theoretical frameworks the course provides analytical concepts and perspectives for understanding this infrastructural sector in relation to sustainable transition in cities.


The course prepares students to become engineers that work with ‘knowledge generation’ in their projects, their thesis, as well as in their professional life as engineers. The course gives you an understanding of the different theories of science, and how they are connected to choices of research design. It addresses how we can understand the ‘processes of knowledge generation and methods’ that characterizes engineers in their work practices as ‘sustainable engineers’.

We ask questions like do engineers work as applied scientists and use scientific knowledge generated by a ’superior’ and rational scientific method’? We also discuss what impact these questions have on the outcomes from the use of analytical models such as EnergyPLAN or economic models. Are models objective in their knowledge production, or are they performing a specific outcome? It will make you capable of assessing and communicating choice of and background for research design. 


Semester 2

Water Management, Transport Planning and Infrastructure Synergies

Here we focus on the two sectors of water/climate change and transport/mobility, as well as discuss potential synergies across all the four urban infrastructural sectors.

Project report

Each project group chooses a topic for their semester report within the theme of the semester of water management, transport planning and infrastructure synergies. The topic is primarily focused on one of the semester theme infrastructures, but should include connection to at least one other sector. For example, water management could relate to energy consumption, or mobility to resource use or climate change.

Courses at 2nd semester:

Water Management and Climate Change Adaptation (5 ECTS)

The course is focused on water management and the diverse challenges and opportunities this involves. Water planning focuses on city climate adaptation and water management strategies in cities facing climate change and increasing severe weather events. It centres on how adaptation strategies often can produce alliances with other city agendas such as the need for increasing green and leisure space. The mobilization of water management as a planning object have diverse origins often related to the specific environmental, social and technical situations cities are located in. This means that water management can include diverse tasks such as providing clean drinking water, climate change adaption or leisure space. This all depend upon the specific urban challenges cities are faced with and how to combine these challenges into actionable alliances for sustainable water management. What technologies are available and can we solve several challenges in one go? What kind of long term strategies are needed?

Sustainable Transport and Mobility (5 ECTS)

The transportation sector should also be seen as an interconnected system in the city. By understanding transport and mobility as a demand, it becomes clear that changes for public transport users will impact car and bike users. By upgrading public transport, it may be possible to shift users towards train, metro, tram and bus use. However, this will at the same time reduce travel time by car, as roads become less congested, thereby again making it more attractive to use cars. As such it is a connected system with potentially wide-ranging impacts.

Urban Infrastructure Synergies (5 ECTS)

This course departs from the four infrastructure courses and identifies synergies across the different sectors. The course aims to teach students a deeper knowledge about the existing systems and structures that exist within a city and how they relate. The key focus is on the four main infrastructure sectors. The course also examines the type of services that these sectors provide and how these infrastructures can be understood as complex systems.

Systems consist of many different components which interact with one another. It is important to understand these interactions to recognise that one individual decision can affect a range of other components within a sustainable city. These relationships will be the key focus of this course and it will most often be from a technical rather than a social perspective.

The course ends with discussions about the synergies and conflicts that exist across the different systems in the different sectors in cities. We examine how, just as the different infrastructural sectors behave as systems, they also interact with one another. By increasing electric vehicles, this impacts electricity consumption, or how waste and resource planning have ties to district heating production, gas production for transport and efficient re-use of resources.

The course provides perspectives on the need of moving beyond silo-specific planning into more holistic views are presented to promote sustainability in the city environment. We look at the role of planning in changing unsustainable socio-technical development paths.


Semester 3

Professional development

Internship, study abroad or “prolonged project period”

This semester will provide the student with the option of applying the theoretical and methodological knowledge gained during the 1st and 2nd semesters into practice in real life situations in Denmark or abroad (Professional Development). This could take form as an internship within for example a private consultancy firm, a public authority or a private NGO. The choice of internship is made on the basis of your interests. During the internship, you participate in the activities of an organisation and collect information for the project report. The project report is expected to have both a theoretical and empirical part relating to the actual experience of the internship.

An alternative option is to enrol at another (Danish or foreign) university in order to undertake a semester's study there. Finally there is an option for adding the 3rd and the 4th semester into a 'prolonged project', if for instance the research question demands more time and energy for collecting data or conducting field studies.


semester 4: Master's Thesis

In the final semester the main focus is on the writing of the Master's Thesis. The students work individually or in small groups, under the guidance of supervisory staff. The Master's Thesis, being the highest level of work undertaken, should aim at synthesising theories and methods in order to perform a potential solution for real life environmental planning and management problems. On the master thesis it can also be beneficial to have a strong link to business and outside organisations.


Sister Programmes

Sustainable Citites has three sister programmes, which are also hosted by the Department of Planning at Aalborg University in Aalborg:

The bachelor's degree programme which precedes these three Master's programmes is Urban, Energy and Environmental Planning (By- Energi og Miljøplanlægning). Unlike the Master's programmes, the bachelor's programme is carried out in Danish.

Study Method at AAU - Problem Based Learning

Study Method at AAU - Problem Based Learning

The study method at AAU is called Problem Based Learning (PBL). Together with your fellow students you will work with real life problems by way of problem based project work.

learn more about Pbl at aau