Climate resilience of thermo-active roads with ground-source heat pump systems

Start date

1 October 2024


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding source

UKRI and/or University of Surrey

Funding information

We are offering the UKRI standard stipend (currently £18,622 per year) with an additional bursary of £1,700 per year for full 3.5 years for exceptional candidates. In addition, a research, training and support grant of £3,000 over the project is also offered. Full home or overseas tuition fees (as applicable) will be covered.


The climate is changing rapidly, altering the long-term environmental loading parameters of 262,300 miles of UK roads. Increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events cause serious road damage and transport disruption, including melting roads in heatwaves and potholes due to freeze-thaw cycles, with highway repair and maintenance costing England alone £1.4 billion in 2021/2022. National Highways’ ambitious decarbonisation programme puts UK roads at the heart of a net-zero future. This PhD project will develop climate-resilient and heat-harvesting roads by deploying an innovative shallow geothermal energy system (SGES) for subgrade heat storage/extraction and pavement temperature regulation and address two significant challenges: (1) physical modelling of the thermal performance and climate resilience of thermo-active roads in a lab-scale soil chamber; (2) life cycle assessment (LCA) of thermo-active roads for net-zero. This research is at the forefront of Energy Geotechnics. Very little research has been conducted on the pavement-pipe-subgrade SGES and factors affecting their performances, especially in the field of civil engineering (e.g. thermal properties enhancement of subgrade materials, pavement/pipe/subgrade interaction, complex thermo-mechanical behaviour under extreme climates). This project will tackle the problem by adopting a systematic research approach that fully characterises materials, physical modelling, and LCA perspectives, significantly advancing the state-of-the-art in climate resilience and heat harvesting of roads, with outcomes providing evidence to aid decision-making. The multidisciplinary nature of the PhD project is demonstrated by the breadth of tasks in the methodology, meaning that the produced research will impact multiple fields. The thermo-active road technology would be applicable to a wide range of transport projects in many UK regions to reduce climate-related road maintenance costs and carbon emissions. 

​Supervisory team: Cao (physical modelling), Makasis (geothermal analysis) and Kreitmair (uncertainty analysis) are ECAs; Sadhukhan (LCA) has a track-record of PGR supervision. Co-supervisors will participate in meetings providing technical guidance when needed.

Eligibility criteria

Open to both UK and international candidates.

Up to 30% of our UKRI-funded studentships can be awarded to candidates paying international rate fees. Find out more about eligibility.

You will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for our PhD programme.

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD programme page. In place of a research proposal, you should upload a document stating the title of the project that you wish to apply for and the name of the relevant supervisor.

Studentship FAQs

Read our studentship FAQs to find out more about applying and funding.

Application deadline

Contact details

Benyi Cao
01A AA 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 689280

Studentships at Surrey

We have a wide range of studentship opportunities available.