Large-scale deployment of bioenergy is central to the majority of scenarios for meeting Net Zero and limiting global warming to 1.5°C. In the UK the Committee on Climate Change suggests that up to 1.2 million hectares of land could be used for the production of second generation bioenergy feedstocks. However, the implications of this transformation for biodiversity, ecosystem services and society are poorly understood.
This PhD, supervised by Prof Felix Eigenbrod, Dr Rob Holland and Prof Gail Taylor, will address this key knowledge gap. In your first chapter, you will build on work carried out by previous students of the supervisory team in the UK (Donnison et al. 2020;) and globally (Dunnett et al. 2022) to build on our current models to predict feedstock deployment patterns compatible with climate ambitions, in particular with references to Bioenergy with Carbon capture and Storage (BECCS). In the second chapter, you will develop indicators to understand the degree to which BECCS deployment has the potential to lead to reduced food crop production and the co-benefits and trade-offs associated with these land use choices in the UK. This work will be in collaboration with economist Prof Brett Day (Exeter), with whom the team have a long-standing funded collaboration as part of the UK Energy Research Council project with which your PhD is aligned. Finally, in your third chapter, you will develop a harmonised set of UK and global environmental indicators to understand trade-offs between sourcing of bioenergy feedstocks within the UK or reliance on global imports, again building on our earlier work (i.e. Holland et al. PNAS 2015). This is important, as international trade is widely recognized as a driver of environmental degradation.
During the course of your PhD, you will learn advanced skills in spatial and statistical modelling and programming within widely used platforms such as R. You will be based with the School of Geography and Environmental Sciences within the Environmental Change and Sustainability research group and be part of a large and friendly community of early career researchers. In addition, you will have the opportunity to spend some time with the group of Gail Taylor, at the University of California, Davis. Overall, your work on the PhD will not only help address a critical issue in meeting UK and global bioenergy targets, but also equip you with cutting edge interdisciplinary quantitative ‘big data’ skills that are in wide demand in industry, government and academia.
The PhD is open to excellent graduates from any relevant discipline (i.e. geography, ecology, environmental sciences, economics) with good quantitative skills and a keen interest in working in an interdisciplinary fashion with ‘big data’.