The Absolute Zero report has set a clear trajectory for what zero emissions in thirty years looks like and that allows us to ask some critical questions about how we prepare for it. Absolute zero is likely to require a three-fold increase in renewably-supplied electricity; a cut to 60% of total energy use; the replacement of flying, shipping, cement and ruminant meat. This has significant consequences for sourcing and producing material.
As an example, just two of these technologies – batteries in electric vehicles and permanent magnets in wind turbines – are expected to generate significant new resource streams. A 2030 phase out of combustion engines in the UK could increase the number of electric vehicles from 0.1 million today to 20 million in 2030. An average 30kWh car battery weighs 300 kg, necessitating the extraction and eventual disposal of some 6 million tonnes of battery material, rich in critical and difficult to source elements such as lithium (Li), nickel (Ni) and cobalt (Co). Scenarios call for up to 75GW of offshore wind by 2050, requiring 7,500 turbines of average size 10MW. Direct drive turbines require up to 650 kg per kWh of permanent magnet materials, driving demand to almost 50,000 tonnes of new material, rich in rare earth elements such as neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), dysprosium (Dy) and terbium (Tb). What does this meaning for sourcing of materials, making products and treating wastes:
- Sourcing materials: the critical and rare-earth elements used in EET occur as trace elements in ore deposits of attractor metals, like iron and copper, and extraction industries are often located in developing countries where significant environmental and social impacts result.
- Making products: there is potential reduce material and energy requirements through resource efficient designs and a shift to less intensive recovery and recycling processes to meet demand. Product designs can be tailored to aid end-of-life disassembly and component reuse, and toxic materials can be encapsulated to prevent exposure to people and natural environments.
- Treating wastes: the burden and impacts of waste treatment and disposal often takes place in developing nations under unsafe and environmentally unsound conditions. Transforming waste into a resource stream through circular business practices which reuse, remanufacture and recycle discarded products should be explored.
This PhD will examine these issues by developing a fine-grained model of material sourcing to meet a future UK economy operating consistently with Absolute Zero. The model must allow the exploration of changing demand for products, options for domestic and traded sourcing, novel processing for secondary material streams, and must allow comparison of anticipated requirements against likely supply, accounting properly for the uncertainty of future forecasts.
Research Objectives: – Map the demand for material in the UK for a zero emissions 2050. Identify which materials will grow and which will decline. – Identify where new material sourcing and processing routes will need to be developed to support a zero emissions 2050 and identify which existing material sourcing and processing routes will no longer be required. – Evaluate how the supply of materials compares to the demand. Identify which materials will be readily available and which will become critical.
Applicants should have (or expect to obtain by the start date) at least a good 2.1 degree in an Engineering or related subject.
Relevant industrial experience would be an advantage.