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Award details

Biodiversity impacts of different net zero carbon pathways for the UK energy system. NERC RENEW PhD Studentship 2022/23 Ref: 4480

About the award


Lead Supervisor:

Prof Xiaoyu Yan - Professor in Sustainable Energy Systems, University of Exeter.

Professor Kevin Gaston - Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation, University of Exeter.

General Information:

The ‘Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach’ (RENEW) project will work with landowners, businesses, and communities to restore woodlands, wetlands and farmland across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The project will put people at the centre of action on biodiversity renewal and build expertise across different sectors and communities to address the environment and climate crises.

The RENEW project is inherently interdisciplinary and encompasses biosciences, social sciences, politics, humanities, environmental intelligence, biodiversity economics, and conservation and is being managed in collaboration with the National Trust. In addition the project is working alongside 33 project partners to deliver its aims.

A principal goal of the RENEW Studentships programme is to create a new generation of interdisciplinary, solutions-focussed researchers who have experienced a rich culture including fundamental research and engagement with key partners.

The RENEW programme has nine fully funded studentships available for January 2023 entry.

A fully funded RENEW studentship will cover:

• A stipend for 4 years (currently £16,062 for 2022-23 entry) in line with the UK Research and Innovation rates
• Payment of the university tuition fees
• Research and Training costs

The project below is one of a number that is available under the RENEW programme.

Project Information:

Many countries and companies have announced targets to reach net zero carbon at some point in the next few decades in a bid to mitigate the potentially devastating impact of climate change. The UK, for example, aims to achieve net zero by 2050. Whilst decarbonisation of the energy system is expected to play a key role in the UK’s net zero strategy, the potential impact of this energy transformation on biodiversity (also in crisis) is poorly understood.

Many low carbon energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels can have negative impacts on biodiversity over their entire life cycle from raw material production, through their use, to their end of life. For example, mining of metals used in a wide range of renewable energy and battery technologies such as rare earth, cobalt, lithium and copper are projected to grow significantly to meet the demand. Dedicated energy crops might need to be grown on a large scale to provide the feedstock for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), which is considered as one of the most viable negative emission technologies in many net zero carbon pathways. Both mining and growing bioenergy crops can cause significant biodiversity impact through direct land use change. The use phase for renewables such as wind turbines, solar panels and tidal power can also have negative ecological and hence biodiversity impacts, largely depending on the location of deployment.

This PhD project will improve understanding of the scale of the biodiversity impacts of different net zero pathways for the UK energy system by: 1) quantifying potential stressors on biodiversity (e.g., land use change) induced by different energy technologies using the life cycle assessment (LCA) method; 2) identifying the likely locations of these stressors at different life cycle stages; and 3) assessing the spatially explicit global and national biodiversity footprint under different net zero pathways. The outputs from the project will inform policy makers to avoid problem shifting and better manage the synergies and trade-offs between climate and biodiversity goals.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate discipline to the project.  Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

If English is not your first language, you would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project

How to apply

To apply for the project please click on the Apply Now button above.

The closing date for applications is Thursday 21st July 2022 2359 GMT.  Interviews will be held around 27th-29th July 2022.

In the application process, you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

• CV

• Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience, and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.

• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.

• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country, you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.

Reference Information:

You will be asked to name two referees as part of the application process, please ensure that you include this information, and where possible upload the reference documents.  Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

• Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, if you do not upload them at the time of submitting your application you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the application deadline.

• If your named referee would prefer to send us their document directly please ask them to forward the documents to

• References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter.  Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts.  We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email
Project-specific queries should be directed to the primary supervisor.

All application documents must be submitted in English.  Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.


Application deadline:21st July 2022
Value:A fully funded RENEW studentship will cover • A stipend for 4 years (currently £16,062 for 2022-23 entry) in line with the UK Research and Innovation rates • Payment of the university tuition fees • Research and Training costs
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Team