The land sparing potential of vertical farming to support Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) deployment

This is an exciting opportunity to work at the cutting edge of two essential technologies for a low carbon future and understand how we can utilise land to provide both food and energy provisions.

Start date

1 July 2021


3 years

Application deadline

Funding source

University of Surrey

Funding information

For UK students: Fee covered (currently £4,407) and stipend at UKRI rates (currently £15,285).

For EU/International: Fee covered (currently £4,407) and stipend at UKRI rates (currently £15,285). An EU student starting AFTER 1/10/21 will pay international fees. Students will be responsible for the difference between UK fees and International fees. EU student will need a visa after 1/1/21.


This is an exciting opportunity to work at the cutting edge of two essential technologies for a low carbon future, vertical farming (VF) and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Vertical farming is a way of growing crops indoors in controlled environment and offers the potential to increase food security. BECCS is a means of providing renewable energy and sequestering carbon to achieve net negative emissions and therefore our wider climate change goal of reducing global warming to below 1.5°C.

Vertical farming is a technology which is gaining popularity due to its ability to reduce the land footprint required for cultivating crops. Studies have shown that productivity per unit land area can be increased by 5-10 times. Given the parallel need to increase the amount of land for planting bioenergy to reach our global climate change goals through large-scale deployment of BECCS. VF has the potential to support BECCS deployment.

This PhD will assess the land substitution potential of vertical farming technologies at a global scale. You will explore which crops are currently commercially viable in VF and how field grown crops can be moved into VF production across the world. You will use spatial, technical and socio-economic modelling to assess the transition from field-based agriculture into VF. In collaboration the University of Aberdeen, you will then assess the potential to grown bioenergy crops in these areas where land has been ‘spared’.

Within this high impact project, there will be opportunities to engage with several key commercial stakeholders and policymakers, as well as the chance to present your work at international conferences. We will support development of your research skills as well as a suite of transferable skills including leadership, communication and project management.

Your principal PhD supervisor will be Dr Zoe M Harris.

Eligibility criteria

Applicants must hold a First Class or Upper Second Class (2:1) Degree in a relevant scientific discipline (e.g. Environmental Sciences, Biosciences, Geography, Engineering). A Masters level degree would be desirable. The ideal candidate will have a passion for global sustainability, food and energy security and possess excellent written and oral communication skills. Experience with Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and programming (MATLAB, GAMS, R, Python, Java) is highly desirable, but not essential.

Thi studentship is available to UK and European students are welcome.

If English is not your first language, you will be required to have an IELTS Academic of 6.5 or above (or equivalent), with no sub-test score below 6.

How to apply

Please apply online via the Environment and Sustainability PhD programme page.

Where you are asked to upload a copy of your research proposal – please upload a cover letter outlining your interest in this PhD project.

Please direct enquires directly to Dr Harris 

Interviews will take place the week beginning 19 April 2021.

Studentship FAQs

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

Application deadline

Contact details

Zoe M Harris
10 BA 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686683


Your principal PhD supervisor will be Dr Zoe M Harris who has strong academic links with the University of California Davis, Imperial College London and the University of Aberdeen. As well as connections to government departments including DEFRA and BEIS, and industrial stakeholders across the VF and bioenergy world.


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