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BARIToNE Project F - Moving to net zero barley production

   School of Life Sciences

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  Dr R Neilson, Prof E Paterson, Dr D Bulgarelli, Ms Gillian MacDonald  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Principal Industrial Supervisor – Gillian MacDonald, Glenmorangie

Principal Academic Supervisors – Dr. Roy Neilson, James Hutton Institute (JHI)

Additional Supervisors – Dr. Eric Paterson, JHI & Dr. Davide Bulgarelli, University of Dundee

This project will be based at the James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie and the appointed student will registered at the University of Dundee as the degree awarding institution.

The Climate Emergency demands that innovative and effective mitigations are urgently developed to achieve a just transition to Net Zero. There is an increasing focus on how this can be tackled in the agricultural sector, while still maintaining production for a growing global population. This project, co-developed by academic and industry partners, will explore the potential for reducing the environmental impact of barley cultivation for the whisky industry.

Whisky is the single most valuable Food and Drink product in the UK (£5.5Bn in 2020), but the barley cultivation stage contributes approximately 50% of the carbon footprint associated with each bottle produced. In large part, this is a consequence of chemical fertiliser use (both energy costs of manufacture and GHG fluxes from soil following application). Therefore, strategies to reduce use of chemical fertilisers, while maintaining sustainable grain production are urgently needed.

The use of distillery wastes for energy production (biogas) through anaerobic digestion (AD) is already an established means of off-setting carbon costs of whisky manufacture. However, AD itself generates wastes with high-nutrient content (digestates) that have potentially deleterious environmental impacts (e.g. effluent discharges affecting water quality). Therefore, the specific aim of this project is to examine the potential value of AD wastes for use as fertiliser replacements, exploiting their high-nutrient value in barley cultivation and supporting circular economy principles through diversion from waste streams. The research will involve controlled environment and field trials to assess the fertiliser equivalence of AD wastes, quantifying growth and grain quality of malting barley, relative to chemical fertilisers. It is essential that impacts of AD wastes on soil health are neutral or positive, and the project will quantify effects of their application on soil biological diversity and functions. This will include isotopic approaches to quantify carbon and nutrient cycling processes in soils (including GHG fluxes and nutrient leaching), combined with molecular characterisation of microbial /faunal communities to determine associated impacts of AD waste application. Based on results obtained, formulations (e.g., AD effluent in combination with biochar generated from solid waste fractions) will be explored to optimise barley production and to foster long-term sustainability of soil ecosystem services in malting barley production systems.

The project provides a motivated candidate with an exceptional opportunity to contribute to a highly topical research area, and to gain invaluable experience of working in both academic and industry settings, generating research-specific and transferable skills from collaboration with each partner organisation.

If you would like to discuss this project in more detail, please contact Dr. Roy Neilson for more information

How to Apply

Please visit the main BARIToNE programme page for more details

Funding Notes

Studentship will cover a full UKRI stipend (currently £15,609/annum) tuition fees, training and travel budget. Part-time study is an option (please indicate on your application) and we offer enhanced support to individuals with primary care responsibilities or disabilities.
Applications are welcome from Home students. To be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the UKRI eligibility criteria (found in the Training Grant T&C's here -
Applicants are expected to hold (about to achieve) at least a 2:1 Honours degree (or demonstrable equivalent experience) in a relevant subject (e.g. Biology, Genetics, Plant Sciences, Ecology, Soil Science, Computer Sciences etc.).


Terrazas et al. (2020). A footprint of plant eco-geographic adaptation on the composition of barley rhizosphere bacterial microbiota. Scientific Reports 10, 12916
Mezeli et al. (2020). Using a meta-analysis approach to understand complexity in soil biodiversity and phosphorus acquisition in plants. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 142, e107695.
Van den Hoogen et al. (2019). Soil nematode abundance and functional group composition at a global scale. Nature, 572, 194-198.
Hopkins et al. (2016). Soil carbon and nitrogen and barley yield responses to repeated additions of compost and slurry. Journal of Agricultural Science, 155, 141-155.
Ghee et al. (2013). Priming of soil organic matter mineralisation is intrinsically insensitive to temperature. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 66, 20-28.
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