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Sustainable Motoring And Renewable Fuels: the role of the automotive industry

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  • Full or part time
    Prof R Ackrill
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Transportation is forecast to be the largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions rises over the coming decades. As a result, much attention has been focused recently on promoting the decarbonisation of transport. In a sector which is about 99% dependent on fossil fuels, the initial challenge is to contain the rise in emissions. As a result, a range of policy measures have been introduced to address this. The EU, for example, set two particular targets in 2009 for 2020 – to have 10% of the transport fuel mix derived from renewable sources; and to have emissions at least 6% below 1990 levels. Currently, the EU is considering new emissions targets through to 2030.

The process of decarbonising transport is multi-dimensional, but the specific focus of this project is cars and the role of carmakers and fuel companies in responding to public policies. Decarbonisation efforts can be split into two types – changes to the fuel used, and changes to the powertrain unit, the engine. To keep the project tractable, the focus will be on biofuels as the principal change that can be made to the fuel; electric vehicles (hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles) as the principal new engine technology; and flex fuel vehicles as an adaptation in engine technology to allow vehicles to take medium and high blends of biofuel, in particular ethanol.

This topic has been given particular salience recently: in April 2016, the consultancy Roland Berger produced a report: ‘Integrated Fuels and Vehicles Roadmap to 2030 and beyond’. It suggests that some companies are looking more towards biofuels than electric vehicle technologies. It was commissioned by a group of oil companies and carmakers, and its title emphasises the close links between the fuels and the engine technologies available. From this we derive two key research questions:

1. What is the optimal response of the carmakers to fuel efficiency and emissions targets?
2. Are the economic and environmental considerations carmakers and policymakers face mutually reinforcing, or mutually exclusive?

In recent years, a growing volume of research has been published on the drivers and consequences of the Biofuels Frenzy (Ackrill and Kay, 2012; 2014) since the start of the 21st century. Within this, however, there has been relatively little attention paid to the role of the automotive industry, despite its centrality to technological innovation and implementation. The Journal of Sustainable Mobility, launched in 2014 and edited by one of the supervisors, has only just begun to correct this (Zhang et al., 2014, 2015). The focus of this project, however, extends beyond this gap in the literature, to explore the challenges faced by companies who must respond to policy by making choices between different existing and possible future technologies. Moreover, with policy evolving over time, carmakers and fuel companies must try to ‘get ahead of the curve’, and be ready to accommodate future, tighter, emissions and efficiency goals, rather than simply catch up with existing policy targets.

This project is conceived of as multi-disciplinary, involving inputs from management science (in particular strategy and innovation studies), institutional economics, and policy science. The research will involve extensive use of fieldwork interviews with policy-makers and representatives of the automotive and fuel industries. The supervisors’ existing networks include relevant individuals in the European Commission (DGs Energy, Transport, and Research), officials in DECC and DfT in UK government, JLR and Ford within the motor industry, Shell and the Independent Transport Commission.

An in-depth case study approach will provide a rich interview dataset which, supplemented with secondary materials, will allow for the utilisation of causal process tracing to explore several concepts at play. The project will explore co-evolution and the nature of links between the car industry, the fuel industry and policymakers. The EU context facilitates a detailed multi-level governance analysis, exploring the extent to which car and fuel companies respond primarily to EU-level policy signals, or to the national policy signals which may vary as EU Directives are incorporated into national law. A grounded theory approach, via these specific instruments, will allow for novel theoretical contributions in this under-researched area.

Specific qualifications/subject areas required of the applicants for this project (e.g. First degree in specific subject area):
UK Master degree (or UK equivalent according to NARIC) including MBA in business, economics or management with knowledge on either the energy sector or the automotive sector in light of the extensive knowledge of the supervisors on the sectors respectively.

Funding Notes

This studentship competition is open to applicants who wish to study for a PhD on a full-time basis only. The studentship will pay UK/EU fees (currently set at £4,121 for 2016/17 and are revised annually) and provide a maintenance stipend linked to the RCUK rate (this is revised annually and is currently £14,296 for academic year 2016/17) for up to three years*.
*Applications from non-EU students are welcome, but a successful non-EU candidate would be responsible for paying the difference between non-EU and UK/EU fees. (Fees for 2016/17 are £12,600 for non-EU students and £4,121 for UK/EU students)

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