Vertical farming trees – using novel aeroponic technology for bioenergy plant breeding

In this exciting project we will explore the impact of controlled environment cultivation on the growth of willow trees on growth and for expression of desirable traits.

Start date

1 October 2022


3 years

Application deadline

Funding source

University of Surrey

Funding information

  • Full tuition fee waiver p.a. (UK students)
  • Stipend at UKRI rates p.a. (currently at £15,609)
  • Research Training Support Grant of £3,000 to cover the funded period.



The Project: Your research will be looking at the impact of aeroponics cultivation on the rapid development of superior quality woody crops planting material. Your research will assess the impact of cultivation environment on growth, performance and expression of preferential traits. The student will be responsible for designing and conducting trials in a controlled environment room and using aeroponic cultivation technology for the nursery stage of tree/biomass production. We will look at impacts on growth as well as the expression of preferential traits in collaboration with Rothamsted Research. You will be supported by two technicians and have access to cutting edge resources to carry out your work.

Impact: This PhD forms part of a large £4m multi-partner project involving numerous industry and academic partners, exposing students to cutting edge technology and opportunities for personal and professional development. In this project you will have the opportunity to work with the UK Urban AgriTech Collective (UKUAT), LettUs Grow, Glideology and Rothamsted Research. There will be opportunities to learn about innovation, tech transfer and commercialisation. Project outputs may lead to commercial applications.

Project rationale: Reaching Net-Zero greenhouse gas emissions requires extensive changes across the UK economy, where energy innovation is playing a vital role. The UK want to significantly increase biomass production in the UK as a key part of this strategy, however doing so at pace presents significant challenges. In this project we are investigating how a novel aeroponic technology can help us rapidly multiply biomass feedstocks for field production.

The student: We are looking for committed and enthusiastic applicants with a background in plant science. Experience in plant breeding, plant genetics and general lab/cultivation experience is desirable. Experience in controlled environment agriculture, soilless cultivation or vertical farming is welcomed.

Supervisors & Community: The successful applicant will be supervised by Dr Zoe M Harris and will be based at the Centre for Environment and Sustainability. We have a vibrant, interdisciplinary research community tackling the biggest issues faced by society globally and host high profile guest lectures from government and industry. You will receive comprehensive research training and opportunities to participate in conferences, workshops, and seminars to develop professional skills and research network.

Related links

Centre for Environment and Sustainability

Additional notes

This PhD is split across two sites. The growth rooms are based at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden. This is where we expect you will spend the majority of your time, so students must be able to work from this site and travel to the University of Surrey for group meetings and to conduct lab work.

Eligibility criteria

Applicants are expected to hold a first or upper-second class degree in a relevant discipline (or equivalent overseas qualification), or a lower second plus a good masters degree (distinction normally required).

This studentship is for UK students.

IELTS requirements: 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

Applications should be submitted via the Environment and Sustainability PhD programme page. Please select: “Environment and Sustainability PhD, Full-time, October 2022”. Please clearly state the studentship title and supervisor on your application.

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Application deadline

Contact details

Zoe M Harris
18 AA 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686683

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