PhD project: Quantifying unknown uncertainty in cutting carbon emissions – University of Bath

About the Project

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the University of Bath URSA competition. Please see the URSA webpage for more information.


There are many uncertainties confronting efforts to reduce carbon emissions. One part — uncertainty in the specific answers given about emissions for a particular product — is fairly well understood. But another part — uncertainty about whether the answer is to the right question — is harder to pin down yet potentially much more significant.

For example, consider a university trying to reduce its food carbon footprint. They find data on carbon footprints of different foods, when produced by specific production methods in specific countries. There is some uncertainty associated with the specific numbers, but potentially much more significant are the unknown unknowns — for example, what if a distributor starts to supply from a different source resulting in more fertiliser emissions? Current analysis methods can only answer what they are asked, and do not solve this problem of checking for unintended consequences of what is not known. Similar issues appear in other purchasing decisions, such as with the impact of steel products from different origins used in manufacturing.

An answer to this problem lies in understanding the whole system context. Over the past 2-3 years within the UK FIRES research project we have been building up a map of the processes and connections in the UK production system, with an unprecedented level of engineering detail. This gives a basis for answering the question: what are all the options for how a particular material or product could have reached me through the production system? And therefore, what is the uncertainty in understanding how my impacts might vary due to supply chain fluctuations?

Building on this data, the aim is to better understand neglected uncertainties in our understanding of our environmental impacts, and ultimately to help to control and reduce them. To do this you will work with analytical and computational models including Life Cycle Assessment, Material Flow Analysis, and Bayesian uncertainty. Specific case studies giving a practical focus and validation could include the University of Bath’s own purchasing (currently under strong focus within a new and ambitious Climate Action Framework) and industrial cases via the UK FIRES industrial consortium.

Candidate Requirements

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent). A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Enquiries and Applications

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Dr Richard Lupton – [email protected]

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Mechanical Engineering

When completing the form, please identify your application as being for the URSA studentship competition in Section 3 Finance (question 2) and quote the project title and lead supervisor’s name in the ‘Your research interests’ section. 

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

Funding Eligibility

To be eligible for funding, you must qualify as a Home student. The eligibility criteria for Home fee status are detailed and too complex to be summarised here in full; however, as a general guide, the following applicants will normally qualify subject to meeting residency requirements: UK nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), Irish nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), those with Indefinite Leave to Remain and EU nationals with pre-settled or settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme). This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Additional information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage, on the GOV.UK website and on the UKCISA website.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Full information

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