The Australian-German Climate and Energy College at the University of Melbourne has a number of PhD scholarships available. The scholarships are available to Australian and international candidates that are keen to research climate or energy transition issues from any discipline or perspective. For many topics, there is the opportunity to undertake joint PhDs with our German partner universities.
Candidates may design their own projects, choose one in relation to existing topics listed here, or contact a potential supervisor at the University of Melbourne with whom they would like to design a project.
Applications close on 6 November 2017 and projects will commence early in 2018. The link for submitting applications is http://climatecollege.unimelb.edu.au/join-us.
Note that only applicants with an equivalent score of at least 80% in their last research degree (Master or Bachelor with honours or Diploma) can be considered.
We particularly encourage women, and people from minority groups or disadvantaged backgrounds to apply. More information is available on the College website at http://climatecollege.unimelb.edu.au.
The potential PhD topics:
*Global emission scenarios: How to turn a zero carbon economy into an opportunity?*
This PhD project will investigate the new set of SSP-RCP emission and concentration scenarios, to be released in 2016/2017. One focus could be to look at the the dynamics of potentially swift technology shifts that could – on a global level – lead to emission budgets consistent with warming of less than 2C or 1.5C, the Paris Agreement goals. From those insights, strategic investment opportunities as well as policy implications (for example sustainable biomass and CCS) could be derived. Further areas of research will include: the extent to which current investments in the energy sector could become stranded investments; the dynamics of penetration rates of renewable energies once they become economically competitive in more market sectors; and the technological, institutional and regulatory limits to penetration rates. Interested PhD candidates will be asked to frame the subject matter according to their own research interests.
*Paris Agreement: Investigating the balance between anthropogenic emissions and sources*
The Paris Agreement and its Art. 4.1 charted the goal of anthropogenic emissions: to be in balance with anthropogenic sinks in the latter half of the century. This PhD could look at the regional implications of such a goal (and the transition towards it) from both a geoscientific point of view (land-use needs, CCS potentials, remainder agricultural emissions), metrics to compare differnt greenhouse gases (how is a balance defined exactly), the transition dynamics towards such a goal (thanks to a meta-scenario analysis of the SSP-RCP database), and the climate implications of different greenhouse gases (with the help of the climate-carbon cycle model MAGICC for example). The PhD candidate will be asked to refine the research question according to its own research interests.
*Future changes in extreme events*
The future evolution of extreme climatic events – particularly droughts, heat waves, cold spells and extreme rainfall – is crucial to evaluating future climatic impacts on society. In our previous work we have developed a method to derive the probability of record-breaking events from climatic trend and variance estimates. This approach has been successfully used for gridded observational temperature data sets for the past century. In this PhD project, this statistical approach can be applied to analyse additional observational data sets, other than monthly gridded temperatures. It can also be applied to generate spatially explicit scenarios for the frequency of future record-breaking extreme events, based on the large-scale climate projections of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP-5 and CMIP-6).
*Developing MAGICC on the basis of CMIP6 output: ice, ocean, the carbon cycle, permafrost and the atmosphere*
This PhD research project will focus on the characteristics of the Earth Climate system as modelled by the CMIP6 suite of climate models. The specific focus area will be defined by the PhD candidate. The basic study object will be the CMIP6 ensemble model runs that will become available in the next years. The working horse will be the MAGICC climate model and refined or new parameterisations of those uncertainty ranges in Earth System responses (as seen in CMIP5 and CMIP6 models). For example, building a simplified carbon-cycle model that includes a nitrogen cycle. Alternatively, building a number of gas cycles that take into account different tropospheric OH, photolysis and other sinks for a wide array of greenhouse gases. The PhD candidate could also look at other areas of her/his interest that are part (or could become part) of the MAGICC model (see live.magicc.org). The MAGICC model is one of the primary tools to determine an emission scenarios likelihood to stay below 1.5C or 2C and was widely used in IPCC AR5. Strong modelling capabilities in Fortran and MATLAB are an advantage.
*Towards an efficient global impact model*
This project is about synthesising integrated assessment knowledge by developing water, food, and socio- economic impact emulators. Probabilistic quantifications of water, food and socio-economic impacts at different levels of global warming, including uncertainty assessments, are rare but seriously needed in the context of the discussion about mitigation targets. This PhD thesis is dedicated to the development of simplified impact emulators and will be based on the ISI-MIP (isi-mip.org/) data set that provides for the first time consistent multi-model global scale projections of climate impacts within the water, biomes, agriculture and health sector. Emulators will have different levels of complexity, reaching from simple scaling with global mean temperature, via linear response functions accounting for the history of the forcing, to non-linear tools. In addition to global mean temperature, regional climate changes or extreme indicators will be tested as potential predictors. In close coordination with project 3.3, the developed impact emulators will form the second level of EXPACT building on the regional geophysical climate projections generated on the first level. Quantification of the inter-impact-model spread of the projections will finally allow for highly efficient probabilistic impact projections.
*Exploring synergies between mitigation and adaptation in land use and agriculture*
Without reducing GHG emissions from agriculture and land use change, ambitious climate mitigation targets are unlikely to be achieved. At the same time, agricultural production has to adapt to changing climate conditions. Large-scale impacts of new production systems on land use emissions as well as resilience to unfavourable future climate conditions will be assessed. Among other options, production of certain types of bioenergy may create important synergies. This will be assessed with a suite of biophysical and agro-economic models. The results will be useful for designing agricultural and energy policies at the interface between climate change mitigation and adaptation.
*Healthier mobility choices in congested cities*
The project will focus on the transport choices of individuals in order to encourage behaviour that considers and improves urban climate. It will develop mobility-as-a-service mechanisms that incentivize mobility behaviour reducing traffic emissions, and active mobility choices along routes of less unhealthy environmental parameters. Integral part are a consideration of predicted emissions for modes and routes, and economic models of incentivization. This is a joint PhD project with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany, a global leader in intelligent transportation. The candidate will spent one year of the project in Karlsruhe. In Melbourne it is linked to the vibrant Climate and Energy College, and integrated in the future cities agenda of the university.
*Floodplain Restoration and Climate Change*
There is a massive floodplain restoration effort underway across the Murray-Darling Basin involving the delivery of environmental water onto floodplains to restore their natural ecosystem function and biodiversity. However little consideration has been made of the effectiveness of this program under conditions of climate change and the potential contribution of the program to carbon sequestration. In this project, novel water quality and sediment monitoring systems developed by the KIT (Karlsruhe institute of Technology) supervisors will be deployed in a floodplain wetland on the Murray River. The project will examine how weather conditions (wind and solar radiation) interact with water regime to influence carbon cycling within the floodplain. The project will evaluate potential effects of climate change on wetland processes and the potential for carbon sequestration that might be achieved through floodplain restoration.
This is a joint PhD project with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany.
* Policy and regulations for optimising the embodied energy and GHG emissions of the built environment*
The contribution of the built environment (buildings and infrastructure, in particular) to global energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions is significant (over 40%). Energy efficiency policy, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions mitigation efforts and building regulations focus predominately on operational performance and improvements. Considerable gains have been made globally in reducing the energy demand and GHG emissions associated with building operation. Solutions typically focus on passive design, high performance materials, and renewable energy systems and terms such as zero-energy and Passive House are becoming increasingly common.
Recent research shows that energy and GHG emissions associated with (embodied in) production and transportation of materials, and the construction process itself are even more significant than in-use energy demands and emissions. However, this aspect is inherently more difficult to address as it involves the broader supply chain (miners, manufacturers, logistics etc.). The aim of this project will be to explore international examples of policy, regulations and strategies for addressing these embodied energy demands and related GHG emissions associated with construction projects. This will be used to inform optimal strategies for improving existing policy and regulations to optimise embodied energy and GHG emissions within the built environment.
* Techno-economic modelling of the Australian energy system*
While there are major discussions about transitioning towards a low-carbon electricity system, less attention has been given to the need to decarbonise the whole Australian energy system. This requires addressing the critical role of other energy sectors such as heating/cooling and transport, as well as interactions with the gas sector and other potential energy vectors such as hydrogen. The aim of this project is thus to develop a “multi-energy systems” view of Australia, supported by a techno-economic operational model that can also support whole-system planning. Different technologies and opportunities across different sectors will be considered, including, in particular, the possibility of providing different forms of energy storage coming from different sectors. These include the role of buildings and industrial processes to provide virtual storage from thermal inertia, the possibility of using the gas network as long-term store of hydrogen coming from renewables-based electrolysis, decarbonisation of transport through electric and hydrogen vehicles that could represent a further form of energy storage, and so forth. Both operational and infrastructure technical and economic aspects will be taken into account, so that a full cost-benefit analysis of different options to decarbonise the whole energy system could finally be carried out.
*A comprehensive assessment of the impact of reducing livestock emissions*
In order to meet the COP21 Paris target we may need to consider either removing CO2 from the atmosphere or focus more attention on Short Lived Climate Pollutants. As methane only lasts in the atmosphere for around 12 years, but has a relatively high global warming potential during this period, there are increasing calls for reduced consumption of livestock products. However, having a choice in your diet is limited to around 10 to 14% of the affluent few in the world. However, at the same time we have a rising world middle class estimated to be 4.9B by 2030, with a clear trends towards more animal-based protein in their diet. Livestock in the developing world are more than just a source of food, being a essential source of power for planting crops, integral in religious observance and a symbol of wealth. This study will compare the theoretical against the likely the true potential of reduced livestock consumption to address global warming, including the competing factors, alternative uses of livestock in society and recommending the future place of livestock in a warming and more populated world.
*Reconciling the global methane budget*
There is still a gap between our bottom-up accounting of methane emissions and top-down measurement of methane concentrations in the atmosphere. If we add all methane emissions estimated through data inventories and models, the estimate of global methane concentrations is larger than the growth in methane concentrations. Isotope signatures suggest that the majority of the recent increase in atmospheric methane might be of biogenic origin. This highlights the need for better accounting and reporting of methane emissions and further research on the fate of methane in the atmosphere. The project will look at methane sources and sinks, at agricultural and wetland emissions, as well as fugitive emissions from fossil fuel infrastructure, including the breakdown of methane in the biosphere, to refine our understanding of the global methane budget.
*New business models for scaling up distributed energy resources (DERs)*
Empirical analyses of how DERs can be scaled up across different socio-economic, geographical, or sector-based business model approaches. Especially interested in business model testing as related to distributed smart solar+storage and/or microgrid business models and/or those that can be applied in different geographical contexts (especially India, remote Australia).
*The next generation of clean energy entrepreneurs*
Interested in hearing about projects that look at the processes of innovation and roles of entrepreneurs, accelerators and incubators in getting companies off the ground and successful clean energy businesses and technologies into the mainstream. Empirical and theoretical projects, and specifically interested in candidates with expertise in carrying this work out in India (although other regions also considered) and those with business venturing / entrepreneurship theoretical approaches.
*The Social Dynamics of Energy Transformations*
Dealing with transformation of the energy supply will require a significant redistribution of both risk and benefits not only to governments but to individuals and communities. Continuation of coal and purchase of carbon abatement (e.g. through the REDD+ scheme) potentially has significant effects for people whose livelihood depends on the forest. A turn to gas, such as coal seam gas, has potentially negative effects on farm land, the development of wind also has generated concern in some communities. This research investigates the way relationships between local communities, governments and energy companies can best be developed to ensure the best outcomes for both climate and community.