UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Fully-funded PhD opportunity in circular economy in the automotive sector

17 April 2018

UCL ISR invites applications for a fully funded PhD in Circular Economy in the Automotive Sector: Resource Implications [CIRCAs].



Dr Teresa Domenech (t.domenech@ucl.ac.uk), Prof Raimund Bleischwitz (r.bleischwitz@ucl.ac.uk) and Prof Paul Ekins (p.ekins@ucl.ac.uk)

Project description

Changes in the commodity markets and price volatility of resources in the last past decades, together with growing concerns about the implications of global environmental problems have drawn increased attention towards resource issues and have highlighted the limitations of a linear economic system based on the wasteful ‘take-make-dispose’ model. Global resource extraction from 1970 to 2010 increased dramatically from 22 billion to over 70 billion tonnes driven among other factors by the rapid development of emergent economies (Ekins and Hughes, 2010).  The concept of the circular economy has attracted attention to give response to the sustainability challenges of enhancing human wellbeing while decreasing negative environmental impacts. Moving away from more conventional incremental approaches, the concept of the circular economy proposes broad systemic changes that encompass innovation and technology systems but also policies, society, business models and finance (European Commission, 2015a). The main focus is on designing regenerative systems where products, components and materials are maintained at their highest value for as long as possible and resources are productively recovered and their nutrients returned to natural systems (Webster, 2015).

Potential benefits associated with Circular Economy may be substantial. A number of recent reports have highlighted the untapped potential of new circular business models. Meyer (2011) provided an estimation of material savings associated with resource efficiency improvements across value chains in the region of 17–24% and costs savings of around €630 millions in Europe. EMF (2012) suggested circular economy business models could contribute to increase EU GDP by 3.9% by 2030. Realising those benefits, however, is a complex process that requires profound changes in resource management practices across value chains to unlock more efficient and circular flows of resources. One of the sector with untapped potential is the mobility sector and, within it, vehicle manufacturing supply chains. The automotive sector is faced with multiple technological challenges, including the transition to electric vehicles and alternative fuels and new forms of mobility, such as car sharing and leasing models. In addition to this, the transition towards electrification raises concerns about the supply of critical raw materials used in the batteries, and geo-political factors which may affect the supply security of these materials. There is also increased pressure to design strategies to reduce overall virgin raw material consumption, including higher share of secondary materials and models around retention of technical parts, including recovering of parts, components and materials at the vehicle’s end-of-life.

The project will: 1) Investigate the nature and magnitude of the required changes for the transition towards a more circular economy in the automotive sector and its implications for mobility systems;  2) Analyse key challenges across the supply chain of vehicle manufacturing associated with electrification, reduction of virgin material consumption and use of secondary materials; 3) Explore new business models in the vehicle manufacturing sector to help maintain resources in the productive cycle for longer and recover materials at the end of the use-life of vehicles; 4) Define visions and scenarios for circularity in the automotive supply chain and identify, assess and quantify potential impact of key policy mixes towards the transition to the circular economy.

The student will have access to ISR expertise in the Circular Economy, New Business Models, Modelling and transition management and the library and facilities of the University College of London.


Candidates must have a first, upper second class honours and a Masters degree (with Merit), in a relevant discipline. Applicants with knowledge of environmental science, circular economy, economics, new business models and practical knowledge of tools such as Material Flow Analysis and Life Cycle are particularly welcome. There may be an opportunity to work with a multinational organisation.

For candidates whose first language is not English, we require IELTS 6.5 (with 6.0 in each component) or equivalent.

This studentship is funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), and in accordance with their policies applications are invited from UK/EU citizens who have been ordinarily resident in the UK for the 3 years immediately preceding the start of studentship. Candidates must also have no restrictions on how long they can remain in the UK. EU Citizens who have not been residing in the UK for the past 3 years may be eligible for a fees only award. Please see EPSRC’s website for further details: https://www.epsrc.ac.uk/skills/students/help/eligibility/


The studentship offered by EPSRC DTP covers the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual stipend for 4 years.

The stipend rate for 2018/19 is £16,777.

Application procedure​

Stage 1 - Pre-application documents - (1) CV, (2) academic transcripts, and (3) 1-page personal statement outlining motivation, interest and eligibility for the post - should be emailed directly to Teresa Dawkins, with EPSRC application in the subject field.

Stage 2 - Following the interview, the successful candidate will be invited to make a formal application to the UCL Research Degree programme. 

Any offer made will be subject to references and proof of meeting the UCL English language requirements

Informal enquiries on the content of the research topic should be emailed to ​t.domenech@ucl.ac.uk

Deadline for application: 4th June 2018
Interviews week commencing: 12th June 2018