Transforming the sustainability of construction through a holistic multiscale modelling framework

A PhD studentship is available for an outstanding and highly motivated person to work on transforming the sustainability of construction through a holistic multiscale modelling framework.

Project description

Cement is now consumed in such vast amounts  (~8x1012 kg year-1 or a global average per capita rate of ~3 kg person-1 day-1) that concrete is the second most used material on Earth, surpassed only by water. At the same time, the production and manufacturing of cement is responsible for ~7% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Without rapid transformation of the production and use of construction materials, the share of anthropogenic CO2 emissions attributable to cement alone is anticipated to grow to 16-32% by 2050.

Does this prevailing – essentially ubiquitous – use of conventional cement minimise CO2 emissions, or are there more sustainable combinations of cement types and alternative construction materials, such as timber and steel? Furthermore, should a single ‘toolkit’ of construction materials be applied globally to minimise CO2 emissions or are there more sustainable regional and local combinations? If so, how much difference does this additional complexity (spatially differentiating material combinations) make? What path should society take to transform the sustainability of the construction industry?

This PhD project seeks to answer questions such as these by using a holistic industrial ecology perspective to characterise and analyse complete life cycles for construction materials across time and space. This perspective will be used to develop a multiscale framework – a type of optimisation algorithm – ranging from systems and industries to material applications and properties. Modelling outputs will be combinations of construction materials that approach optimal sustainability (e.g., minimising CO2 emissions) in each spatial boundary analysed. Significantly, the framework will focus on buildings – which account for ~40% of both total anthropogenic CO2 emissions and energy use – and include materials, structural and non-structural components, whole structures (e.g., buildings), neighourhoods, and cities/regions. Therefore, this project is highly transdisciplinary, extending from data science to chemical and civil engineering to industrial ecology. The successful applicant will thus learn and apply a broad range of science skills that are needed at the interface of engineering and industrial ecology – skills that are urgently needed to understand how to approach and implement sustainable development.

Further Information: 

Start date

Flexible – applications will be considered on a rolling and individual basis. 

Closing Date

20th December 2018 (or until vacancy is filled).  Interested applicants are advised to submit their application as soon as possible, as applicants will be reviewed and interviews will be conducted up until the position is filled.

Closing Date: 

Thursday, December 20, 2018
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Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 

Dr Francesco Pomponi; Prof Gordon Masterton


Applicants must hold an undergraduate or masters degree in science or engineering. Mathematical and programming skills (e.g., Python, R, Bash) are an asset. The aptitude and motivation to learn and effectively apply new skills, and also engage with scientists and practitioners with diverse backgrounds, is an additional advantage. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.


Applications are welcomed from students who are applying for, or have been awarded, a scholarship or similar from the University of Edinburgh or elsewhere.  

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: