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  Prospective Life Cycle Assessment for Sustainable Chemical Innovation: Developing Digital Techniques for Early-Stage Decision Support


   School of Chemical, Materials and Biological Engineering

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Are you passionate about shaping a sustainable future and making a real difference in the chemical industry? An exciting PhD opportunity awaits you at the intersection of cutting-edge technology and environmental sustainability assessment. Accurately predicting the potential environmental impacts of low technology readiness level (TRL) chemical production routes once they are fully deployed is a significant challenge for the chemical industry. The goal of this PhD is to explore how prospective / ex-ante LCA, covering multiple impacts, can be applied in the context of early-stage innovation of sustainable chemicals. This is required to inform innovation decisions contributing to net zero and other environmental sustainability ambitions.

This PhD will focus on developing and applying innovative digital tools and techniques to achieve this goal, despite the limited primary data availability and the lack of maturity of sustainable chemical production routes. The LCA tools developed will include aspects of machine learning and data mining to enable gap-filling algorithms and probabilistic modelling of future scenarios. The focus will be on providing a time-efficient, reliable sustainability assessment of chemical ingredient production for fast-moving consumer goods, with a special emphasis on complex chemicals that could be sourced from biomass and/or captured CO2. During the PhD, you will work closely with a dynamic team of LCA experts at Unilever’s Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre and the University of Sheffield. Together, you will develop a robust assessment framework that can guide vital business decision-making. Your work could have a considerable impact, contributing directly to the mission of achieving net zero and fulfilling ambitious environmental sustainability goals.

Required qualifications:

  • A good honours degree (2:1 or above) (or equivalent) in a relevant field, for example, but not limited to, Chemical Engineering, Computer/Data Science, Environmental Engineering, etc.
  • Keen interest in system thinking and modelling.
  • Proficiency or willingness to learn programming languages like MATLAB, Python, VBA, etc., to solve complex engineering challenges.
  • Passion for sustainability and some familiarity with environmental impact modelling approaches such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
  • Self-motivation, exceptional time management, resilience and perseverance.
  • Keen attention to detail and ability to apply this within a meaningful context.
  • An enduring curiosity and a love of learning.

Supervisors: Professor Rachael Rothman and Dr Fanran Meng (University of Sheffield), Dr Florence Bohnes and Dr Katy Armstrong (Unilever)

Please apply to the University of Sheffield - link for applications: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/cbe/postgraduate/phd/how-apply - include the name of the Sheffield University proposed supervisors and the title of the PhD project within your application.

Informal Enquiries may be sent to Professor Rachael Rothman () or Dr Fanran Meng ().

Computer Science (8) Engineering (12)

Funding Notes

The project will be fully funded by Unilever.

·        Studentships cover the full tuition fees, a tax-free stipend and consumables for the duration of the 3.5 year programme

  • The stipend rate for the academic year 2024/25 is £19,237. The stipend will rise with inflation each academic year following UKRI standard.
  • Students receive £10,000 for consumables during the project which is used for laboratory supplies, travel and conference attendance.

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