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PhD Studentship: The transport construction road to net zero

   Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering

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  Prof L Varga  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


UCL Department / Division

Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering

Location of position


Duration of Studentship

4 Years


Fully funded 4-year PhD studentship, with a £17,609 per annum tax free stipend in Year 1, rising with inflation.

Vacancy Information

Transport infrastructure construction (TIC) is one of the top carbon emissions causes in the UK. Reaching the 2050 goal of net zero carbon means transitioning TIC to circular economy approaches. This will help achieve global reduction of emissions without compromising economic growth while decarbonizing transport. National Highways are committed to putting sustainable development into practice and they have set out “an ambitious programme putting roads at the heart of Britain’s net zero future”. 

The Net zero highways strategy is set to facilitate the decarbonization of the sector ) and aligns with the 1.5°C reduction goal of the Paris Agreement and the UK’s commitment to be a net zero economy by 2050. Network Rail are also committed to environmental sustainability state “Our vision is to serve the nation with the cleanest, greenest mass transport”

The 30-year Environmental Sustainability Strategy sets out the importance of a low-emission railway, a reliable railway service that is resilient to climate change, improved biodiversity of plants and wildlife, and minimal waste and sustainable use of materials.

It is clear that the traditional linear (‘take, use, dispose’) economic model used for TIC is reaching its limits due to its extractive nature wasting finite resources. Therefore there is a need to focus on systemic and whole of life considerations of TIC, entailing the use of engineering knowledge, eco-design principles and building on Circular Economy approaches in alignment with Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), world expert on Circular Economy ( 

Industry support will facilitate the access to relevant real data from specific transportation projects and industry experts. National Highways is the government company that plans, designs, builds, operates and maintains England’s motorways and major A-roads, known as the strategic road network (SRN). Network Rail owns, operates and develops Britain's railway infrastructure: 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations.

Studentship Description

The specific topic of the PhD will be decided after selection of the post-holder in alignment with their interests and research scope, focusing on one or a combination of the following topics:

  • The transition to net zero for highways is a critical matter which might encounter barriers on its delivery in relation to the existing design codes and standards. In relation to this the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) may require changes, evidenced by doctoral research insights.
  • TIC covers design, engineering, manufacture, logistics and the construction supply chain plus use and recovery of materials such as asphalt, cement, concrete and steel, all contributing to emissions. A carbon management system is needed to make best decisions for the whole life of the transport solution, highlighting potential for eco-design and circularity, with the help of digital libraries of materials.
  • The potential for minimizing new construction through the use of digital technologies has unknown potential to increase the capacity of the existing network. Research on the role of eco-design principles and circularity approaches for digital roads and digital vehicles (such as Connected Autonomous Vehicles - CAVs) is needed.

The post-holder is expected to present results at international conferences and in peer-reviewed journal articles of high international standing.

Person Specification

Candidates for this project will likely have a background in civil or environmental engineering or a relevant degree. We are looking for one person with the following attributes:

A numerate engineering or physics graduate or graduates who have experience with sustainable development and preferably circular economy and an interest in environmental issues. At least 2:1 degree at undergraduate but ideally a relevant first-class MSc or MEng degree. Excellent communication skills in writing and presentation. Great team working and collaboration skills to fit into our team and our industry partners but also willingness to perform independently. We positively encourage candidates from diverse backgrounds.

The UCL Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering is one of the top research and teaching departments in the UK and has world-class standing. The department offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and has an extensive research portfolio across a wealth of areas. UCL is committed to promoting equality and diversity, and creating an inclusive environment for all staff and students.


Overseas students may apply however funds are only available to cover UK-equivalent fees.


should send a covering letter and CV to [Email Address Removed]. The successful

applicant will then have to apply online to UCL by submitting the PhD

application form which they can do by clicking on the Apply now button at the

bottom of this page:

Please name Professor Liz Varga as the proposed supervisor.

Contact name

Professor Liz Varga

Contact details

[Email Address Removed]

Closing Date

13 February 2022

Interview date


Studentship Start Date

March 2022

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