UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Sustainable Resources MPhil/PhD

Become an independent researcher and contribute to our understanding of how we can use the world’s resources more sustainably.

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Jump to section: About the programmeOur research environmentOur student's experiencesHow to applyScholarships and funding


About the programme

UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources hosts a large cohort of PhD students working on a range of research projects relating to the sustainable use of the world’s resources. Using a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods our research analyses natural and human systems, on global, regional, and local scales.

Our research interests span six major themes:

Through undertaking a research degree our PhD students demonstrate the capacity to organise, carry out and write up a substantial piece of research, presented in a thesis that demonstrates academic rigour and originality.

Studying full-time

A full-time PhD programme normally lasts for three years. Initially, all students are registered for an MPhil degree. At the end of the first year, those studying full-time for a PhD undertake a formal “upgrade process” which includes a presentation and viva. If your upgrade is successful, you will then be registered as a PhD student. Students have up to two upgrade attempts. It is possible to study for an MPhil rather than a PhD degree from the outset, but this is rare.

Once you have completed your initial three-year period, if your studies are sufficiently advanced you are able to enter an additional year of “Continuing Research Status”, with no further fees. Please note that some funders instead offer four-year scholarships with no possibility of entering Continuing Research Status – if your PhD is funded please check the terms of your agreement.

To conclude your studies you will submit a thesis that will be assessed in an oral viva.

Studying part-time

Part-time students follow the same programme as full-time students, except that the programme length is five years, with up to two additional years in Continuing Research Status, and the first upgrade attempt normally takes place after 18 months.

Our research environment

UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources is based in Central House on UCL’s Bloomsbury campus in Central London. Desks are available for all PhD students and academic staff using a hot-desking system. We also have a Staff and PhD common room, designed for collaborative working. We expect full-time students to reside within commuting distance of London so they are able to attend campus regularly.

You can expect:

  • A vibrant, cooperative academic research environment. 
  • Access to a desk in the department and to libraries, online resources, specialist computing facilities, software and other resources as required.
  • To meet your supervisors regularly.
  • Access to pastoral care and other support if, and when, you need it.

We expect you to:

  • Be committed to your studies. A PhD is a substantial undertaking.
  • Be curious about your research area and the wider implications of your research. When you undertake a PhD with us, we train you to become an independent researcher who can ask key questions and also answer them.
  • Support your research insights with evidence.
  • Meet regularly with your supervisor and act on their advice.
  • Take opportunities to broaden your skills and knowledge throughout your PhD, such as attending training courses and events.
  • Treat all of your colleagues with respect. We are proud to welcome you to a positive and diverse workplace.

We also offer:

Training opportunities

All students are expected to broaden their skills and knowledge throughout their PhD. The UCL Doctoral Skills Development Programme is designed to help you to expand your research and transferable skills in order to support your research, professional development and employability. Moreover, UCL is a partner with eight other universities in the Bloomsbury Postgraduate Skills Network, which enables you to take courses offered by those institutions as well. This is particularly valuable for courses in specialist areas.

Paid teaching and research opportunities

We frequently have paid teaching and research opportunities available to our MPhil/PhD students.

Our school has a number of popular MSc courses, including the Sustainable Resources MSc and the Economics and Policy of Energy and the Environment MSc. Postgraduate Teaching Assistant positions are available to teach on these programmes. All PhD students can apply for these roles.

Opportunities occasionally arise for students to contribute to research or consultancy projects. You would be employed either as a temporary member of staff, for research projects, or as an external consultant. If appropriate, you could interrupt your PhD studies while working on the project.

Our student's experiences 

The Institute for Sustainable Resources offers excellent interdisciplinary research opportunities within an international environment. My research focuses on the drivers of natural resource use and how resource efficiency impacts on competitiveness in the European Union. I find the policy relevance particularly interesting since the topic combines both economic and environmental perspectives." - Florian Flachenecker, graduated 2018
The best part of the PhD was being a part of a cohort of students working towards a joint goal of understanding some of the greatest complexities and challenges we are faced with. More personally, I relished the opportunity and freedom given to me by ISR to conduct my field research in a manner of my choosing. I spent close to a year in the desert villages of Rajasthan in India researching land use, climate change and its impacts on the people in the region. It challenged me and changed my perspective in the most meaningful way." - Darshini Ravindranath, graduated 2018

Find out more about our PhD students experiences, what they are doing now, and advice they have for future PhD students. 

How to apply

Before making a formal application to study a PhD at UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources you should first identify a project, identify a potential principal supervisor and submit an expression of interest.

Follow the four-step process below to make your application. 

Step one – identify a project

You can either propose your own research project or choose a research project that we have suggested below. 

If you wish to propose your own project, you should prepare a 2-page outline research proposal to share with potential supervisors covering:

  • the background;
  • key literature;
  • research question(s); and,
  • proposed research methods.

Here is an example of an outline research proposal.

Suggested projects

Hydrogen Energy Systems
Supervisor: Paul Dodds

There are numerous research questions about hydrogen energy systems that could be the subject of a PhD. Where and at what scale will hydrogen demand likely develop over the coming decades? As a key challenge for the development of hydrogen systems is the lack of existing hydrogen infrastructure, how can we develop hydrogen infrastructure in a way that minimises the cost of hydrogen and the risks of both unmet demand and expected demand not materialising? To what extent might ammonia have a role as an energy carrier in the future? How can hydrogen contribute to UK energy security, affordability, and UK economic competitiveness and growth?

Academic background: Operations research, economics, process engineering

The future of oil refineries in low-carbon economies
Supervisor: Prof Paul Dodds

The aim of this PhD will be to understand how demands for products from oil refineries might change in the future as the global economy decarbonises, and what the implications are for the number and design of refineries. Oil refineries manufacture a wide range of products for energy and non-energy uses. Demands for some outputs, such as diesel, are expected to greatly reduce in the future, while others will be much less affected. This PhD will use UCL’s TIAM-UCL model to explore future changes in demands. The extent to which existing refineries can be redesigned or new refineries created to meet these changing demands will then be examined.

Academic background: Chemical or process engineering

Non-cost barriers to decarbonised heating
Supervisor: Prof Paul Dodds

Heat decarbonisation studies for residential and non-residential buildings tend to focus on cost and carbon savings. Yet a range of other factors are important, for example the size, reliability, noise and responsiveness of the heating system. The first aim of this PhD will be to understand the relative importance of non-cost barriers in the UK for natural gas and hydrogen boilers, electrical storage and heat pump systems, and heat networks. This information will then be used to develop decarbonisation strategies that account for non-cost factors and their implications (e.g. for the political feasibility of decommissioning existing gas networks).

Academic background: Social sciences, economics

Modelling the need for energy storage in low-carbon electricity systems
Supervisor: Prof Paul Dodds

Energy system models tend to underestimate the need for storage in low-carbon electricity system due to (i) inadequate temporal resolution; (ii) assuming of perfect foresight for storage charging and discharging; (iii) ignoring potential value from ancillary markets; and, (iv) ignoring local network capacity limitations. This PhD will examine how each of these areas might be addressed. Several models will be available to examine hypotheses, including low- and high-resolution versions of the UK TIMES model and the hourly-resolution highRES planning and dispatch model

Academic background: Operations, research, economics, process engineering

Rethinking the structure of energy system models
Supervisor: Prof Paul Dodds

The structure of energy system models (e.g. TIMES models from IEA ETSAP) typically reflects the structure of national energy statistics, which focus on the supply side. Yet other structures would be possible, for example to reflect lifestyles by reimagining energy service demands. This PhD will examine the feasibility, challenges and potential benefits of adopting novel model structures for understanding decarbonisation pathways.

Academic background: Operations, research, economics, process engineering

Designing local energy system models
Supervisor: Prof Paul Dodds

Energy systems models are most often designed on a national scale, but there is increasingly a move to regional models. There are many approaches to defining regions (e.g. geography; energy infrastructure considerations; political system; population density; transport system). The choice should reflect the questions a model is required to answer. While national governments have used energy system models for a long time, there is increasing interest from local governments, who have different competencies and different questions. In this PhD, interviews will be held with local and national government stakeholders in the UK to understand their needs. The PhD will then explore how a regional version of the UK TIMES model could be redeveloped to meet those needs.

Academic background: Operations, research, economics, geography

Step two – identify a potential supervisor

Before submitting an expression of interest, you should identify your potential principal supervisor. This should be someone whose interests fit with what you wish to research.

Below is a list of eligible supervisors at UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources. You can find a link to their research profile, whether they are currently accepting new PhD students and an overview of their research interests. 

Each PhD student has at least two supervisors, often with different skills. Should your application be successful your principal supervisor, following discussions with you your principal supervisor approach a subsidiary supervisor for your project.

Supervisors at UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources and their areas of interest
SupervisorResearch themeInterestsNew students?
Dr Paolo AgnolucciSustainability at the water-food-land nexusI am an applied econometrician covering panel and time series methodologies both at micro and macro level with a focus on Quasi-Experimental Analysis of policy impacts, impact of climate change, energy demand, crop yield modelling and food trade. Please check my publications! Yes
Dr Nadia AmeliFinancing the low carbon transitionFinancing the low-carbon transition; Energy system transitionYes
Dr Isabela ButnarEnergy system transitions to achieve net-zeroEnvironmental sustainability (Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), hybrid energy modelling - LCA); Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR); Land based climate mitigation (bioenergy energy systems, afforestation) 
Dr Alvaro Calzadilla RiveraSustainable, circular and resource-efficient economies and societiesComputable General Equilibrium modelling of economic, energy, environmental and resource policies; Climate change impacts on economic systems; The economic impact of low-carbon transition scenarios; Global food production and food security; Circular economyNo
Dr Carole DalinSustainability at the water-food-land nexusSustainable, circular and resource-efficient economies and societiesEnvironmental impact , environmental sustainability of food production; Water for food - hydrological modelling; Environmental impacts embedded in food trade; Sustainable and healthy food systems; Crop modelling and climate changeNo
Dr Olivier Dessens  No
Prof Paul DoddsSustainability at the water-food-land nexusEnergy system transitions to achieve net-zero

I am only considering students interested in the "The future of oil refineries in low-carbon economies" project described below. My general interests are energy System modelling and hydrogen energy systems.

Oil refineries manufacture a wide range of products for energy and non-energy uses from fossil fuels. Demands for some refinery outputs, such as diesel, are expected to greatly reduce after 2030, while others are likely to be much less affected. Refineries could change the way their units operate, or invest in new equipment, to change the proportions of each petroleum product that is produced. They could also invest to enable greater use of fuels such as biomass and low-carbon hydrogen to reduce the lifecycle emissions of their products. This aim of this PhD is to investigate how demands for products from oil refineries might change in the future as the global economy decarbonises, and what the implications are for the number and design of refineries. We are looking for a high-achieving student to apply for a UK EPSRC CASE studentship for this PhD. The UK Petroleum Industry Association (UKPIA) will be the CASE sponsor and will provide access to information on and contacts in UK refineries. The future roles of oil refineries in the transition to net zero are being developed by UKPIA and the work of this PhD will significantly inform this development.

Academic background: Chemical or process engineering.

Dr Teresa Domenech AparisiSustainability at the water-food-land nexusSustainable, circular and resource-efficient economies and societies No
Prof Paul EkinsSustainable, circular and resource-efficient economies and societiesDirecting innovation for sustainable development No
Prof Michael GrubbEnergy system transitions to achieve net-zeroFinancing the low carbon transitionDirecting innovation for sustainable development

My own areas of primary research interest and expertise concern:

  • Electricity regulation for high-renewables systems
  • Dynamic economics of energy transitions, including factors determining pace of change and related financial structures, nationally and internationally
  • Policy strategies for decarbonising energy intensive industries, particularly trade-exposed sectors.

In addition, I am increasingly interested in the multi-level and geopolitical dimensions of the above, including the roles of major emerging economies. I generally do not supervise PhDs with a prime focus on modelling (many others at our Institutes do modelling). 

I tend to view these challenges in terms of the ‘Three Domains’ (www.) of innovation and transition processes, see Planetary Economics: Energy, Climate Change and the Three Domains of Sustainable Development - winner of 2021 Marcel Boiteux International prize for “outstanding book contributing to energy economics and its literature” by International Association for Energy Economics, Now available for free download here.

Dr Xavier LemaireImproving energy access and resource use in the developing worldSustainable, circular and resource-efficient economies and societies No
Dr Lorenzo LottiSustainable, circular and resource-efficient economies and societies No
Dr Will McDowallEnergy system transitions to achieve net-zeroDirecting innovation for sustainable developmentEco-innovation; low-carbon innovation policy; hydrogen energy; energy scenarios; energy policymaking; circular economyYes
Dr Julia TomeiSustainability at the water-food-land nexusImproving energy access and resource use in the developing worldEnergy access; resource use; low and middle income countries; qualitative research; governance; policy and politics; land use change; justice and equity.Yes
Prof Jim WatsonEnergy system transitions to achieve net-zeroImproving energy access and resource use in the developing worldEnergy policies - including for emissions reduction, energy security and innovation; transitions to net-zeroYes


Step three – submit an expression of interest

Once you have identified a potential supervisor and project you can submit an expression of interest. 

Only supervisors who are taking on new students at present are listed on the form. Please do not put it more than one expression of interest form at a time or contact more than one supervisor.

When you submit the expression of interest form, you will be sent an e-mail with information about next steps, which include submitting your CV and (if necessary) your outline research proposal, and arranging an interview with your potential supervisor. If you do not receive this e-mail within 24 hours of submitting the form, and it is not in your junk e-mail box, then please contact Professor Paul Dodds for assistance.

Here is an example of an outline research proposal.

Submit an expression of interest

Step four – submit a formal application

For your formal application to study at UCL you will need to submit a full research proposal. Your proposed supervisors will normally give you feedback about how you can improve your full proposal prior to the formal application stage. This would normally be at least 6 pages in length, expanding on your outline proposal and including your supervisory team, potential publications and a timeline for the PhD research.

Here is an example of a full research proposal.

Once you have completed the above steps and agreed a supervisory team and research proposal, or have been directed to apply by the course director or course administrator, you can submit a formal application to UCL. 

You can apply formally using the link on the Prospectus page.

Scholarships and funding

Most scholarships available from UCL are offered in open competitions. See the UCL scholarships page for details. Other scholarships occasionally become available from projects, and students are recruited for these through an open recruitment process.
Students with these scholarships usually commence their studies at the start of the academic year in September. The application deadline for each scheme is usually between January and April each year.  Some scholarships require applicants to have been offered a place to study at UCL prior to applying, and this process can take up to 10 weeks once all of the information is provided, so we strongly recommend contacting potential supervisors in the autumn if you are interested in one of these scholarships.
Use the finder below to find scholarships which you are eligible for. Please select 'Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources' under UCL Department.

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