UCL Energy Institute


Funded PhD studentship: What does net zero emissions mean for the chemical industry?

6 June 2019

The UCL Energy Institute invites applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship focusing on the implications of net zero emissions for the chemical industry.



•    Primary supervisor: Dr Paul Dodds, Associate Professor in Energy Systems
•    Stipend: £17,009 plus fees of £5,210 (2019-20 figures)
•    Start Date: Autumn 2019
•    Funded by: EPSRC and Johnson Matthey
•    Funding Duration: 3.5 years 
•    Eligibility please check: https://www.epsrc.ac.uk/skills/students/help/eligibility/


In May 2019, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change recommended an ambitious ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) target for the UK by 2050.  Aviation and industry are considered particularly difficult and costly to decarbonise.
One approach for aviation is producing bio-kerosene from the Fischer-Tropsch process, with waste or biomass as a feedstock. Johnson Matthey have developed and commercialised a Fischer-Tropsch plant design that uses waste feedstocks, in collaboration with BP.
75% of chemical industry GHG emissions occur from manufacturing only 18 chemicals. Historically, the focus of process optimisation has been efficiency and cost. Achieving net zero emissions will require redesign to also take into account GHG emission avoidance, and to consider how to choose feedstocks and processes to minimise or capture emissions while maximising economic revenues.


The PhD will explore decarbonisation options for a range of chemical processes. It will consider which existing production processes will be no longer viable, which alternatives are likely to be cost-effective replacements, and when they might be cost-effective. In the first year, the student will create a framework for analysing net-zero chemicals and will test this framework for jet fuel production from a Fischer-Tropsch reactor. In subsequent years, the student will use the framework to explore net-zero options for other critical chemicals.
The primary analysis tool is expected to be the UK TIMES energy system model, which the UK Government used to inform the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy. The student will develop expertise in energy system modelling and will use the model to explore decarbonisation pathways for aviation and the chemical industry, in the context of decarbonising the whole economy.
The student will be associated with the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC). They will be invited to UKERC meetings and conferences, and will have the opportunity to collaborate with UCL’s research teams.
Johnson Matthey (JM) is sponsoring this PhD. JM is a British multinational company specialising in chemicals and sustainable technologies. The student will benefit from the substantial technical knowledge within JM, will join a community of around 70 PhD students that are funded by JM, and will attend the JM PhD annual conference.

Person Specification

The project is ideally suited to a quantitative individual with a chemical or process engineering background who is motivated to work on problems that can have a real-world impact in supporting the transition to a decarbonised energy system. Candidates should have:
•    A bachelor’s degree awarded with a minimum of upper second-class (2:1) honours, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard from a recognised higher education institute.
•    A Masters degree in engineering, energy, or other relevant quantitative disciplines.  Candidates without a Masters degree may be admitted where suitable research or professional experience is demonstrated.
•    A strong appreciation of engineering enabling the candidate to understand and work on detailed processes with complex data, and to understand and analyse how such processes fit into the wider economy.
•    Excellent numerical and computing skills.
•    The ability to use own initiative, prioritise workload and work as part of a team.
•    Excellent interpersonal and communication skills (oral and written).

Application Procedure

Email a pre-application to Athina Benia (bseer-phd-admin@ucl.ac.uk) with “ESPRC Chemical Industry” as the subject. Do not use the UCL online admissions system. 
The deadline for applications is: 09.00 (BST) Sunday, 4th August 2019
Please include:
•    A covering letter, clearly stating your motivation and your eligibility according to these guidelines: www.epsrc.ac.uk/skills/students/help/eligibility/.
•    Your CV.
•    The names and addresses of two academic referees.
•    A copy of your degree certificate(s) and transcript(s) of degree(s).
•    A short research proposal (max. 1000 words), which takes into consideration the project research questions.
Informal enquiries on the content of the research topic or your eligibility should be emailed to Dr Paul Dodds (p.dodds@ucl.ac.uk). 

Interviews will be held during the week of 21 August 2019.