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Exploiting satellite data to estimate material stocks in the built environment

   Department of Civil and Structural Engineering

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  Dr D Densley Tingley  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Applications are invited for a 3.5 year PhD studentship on built environment material stock analysis. This is an exciting opportunity to develop and apply your skills on a interdisciplinary project that will work alongside a UK Research Council grant investigating the circular economic potential of the UK’s non-residential building stock.

Project Description

The 20th century oversaw a 23-fold increase in accumulated resources extracted, including materials currently locked in buildings and infrastructure (1). This rate of consumption far exceeds the planet’s capacity to regenerate, and has serious implications for global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and poses significant challenges to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in the next decade. Addressing this requires a step change in practice, and implementation of circular economic (CE) reduce-reuse-recycle strategies, where materials are highly valued and remain in use for as long as possible. However, detailed knowledge of material types and quantities that are locked in the building stock is lacking, making any estimate of CE potential unfeasible.

This PhD project will tackle this lack of data by exploring the extent to which satellite and remote sensing data can be utilised to estimate material/component stocks in the built environment, focusing initially on the UK. A wide range of large datasets will be investigated, e.g. nighttime light maps, population density maps, and thermal data maps. There will also be the potential to explore hybrid material flow analysis techniques (2) as part of the project. It is likely that Geographical Information System (GIS) tools will be utilised in order to analyse and visualise data and results.

The successful applicant will join the successful and friendly RISE – Resources, Infrastructure Systems and built Environments group in the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering.

The student undertaking this project will have the opportunity to be a University of Sheffield Grantham scholar and to take advantage of the programme of sustainability training offered. The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures focuses on advancing sustainability research and connecting it with the policy debate around how humans can live in a more sustainable way (

Grantham scholars combine outstanding intellect with a strong commitment to public engagement, leadership and action. These ambitious individuals undertake interdisciplinary PhD research projects to help solve the challenges of sustainability. They will be supported by the Centre through a unique training programme, designed to equip them with the skills to become policy advocates and leaders in sustainability matters. Further information about Grantham Centre training programme

(1) Krausmann et al. 2017. Material Flow Accounting: measuring global material use for sustainable development. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 42: 647-675.
(2) Lanau et al. 2019. Taking stock of built environment stock studies: progress and prospects. Environmental Science & Technology, 53, 8499-8515.

The Candidate
Suitable for candidates holding/anticipating award of a Distinction/1st or Merit/2.1 or equivalent masters level degree in an engineering, numerical/physical sciences, industrial ecology or urban studies discipline.

Candidate with previous experience and knowledge of material flow analysis and/or GIS would be particularly welcome.

The successful candidate must start by October 2020.

Next steps
Informal enquiries are welcome, please contact the lead supervisor Dr Danielle Densley Tingley at [Email Address Removed]

Applications should include a CV and a succinct one-page research proposal within this proposed topic area.

Funding Notes

For UK and EU students who have been a resident in the UK for the last three years you will be eligible for funding that will cover home tuition fees and a maintenance stipend at the UKRI rate of £15,009. International students may be eligible for partial funding of either fees or stipend depending on individual circumstances.
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