Constraining CO2 emission of cities with sensor networks

Qualification: PhD

Department: School of Physics and Astronomy

Application deadline: 21st November 2019

Start date: 28th September 2020



Professor Hartmut Boesch and Dr Josh Vande Hey

Project Description

Reducing carbon emissions to prevent damaging climate change is one of the grand challenges of our time.  Although most countries have now committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (thanks to the Paris Agreement), we currently have no reliable means of observing carbon emissions on the appropriate space and time scales required to provide a better understanding of emission sources to underpin mitigation policies (‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’). 

A main focus will have to be on urban areas which cover only a small fraction of the land but are responsible for about 70% of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions. Historically carbon cycle studies have focused on ‘natural’ ecosystems, but since our understanding of carbon budget of cities is poor, urban carbon is quickly becoming a new frontier in carbon cycle science with the emergence of megacity carbon projects e.g. in LA and Paris. Understanding carbon at city scale can also inform local policy decisions on carbon mitigation and ensure that cities setting ambitious local goals are directing their efforts effectively.

Recent development in sensor technology provides now an opportunity for developing novel sensor networks using flexible and ‘low-cost’ CO2 sensors that can be deployed in urban environments to provide frequent measurements across a city in real-time. Such detailed data will allow us to gain new scientific insights into human-generated emissions from cities and CO2 uptake by the biosphere, which is important for ‘green’ cities such as London. There will also be opportunities for exploring synergistic approaches with upcoming satellites that target cities (but on larger spatial scales) and with existing air quality networks (NO2 and CO2 are co-emitted during fossil fuel burning).

This studentship will combine novel technology for low-cost sensors that will facilitate unique urban sensor networks and high profile science with high public interest, relevance to policy makers and a clear potential for commercial applications. 

The studentship is supported by the partner EarthSense Ltd., a Leicester-based company who specialises in air quality sensors and pollution modelling and by EMPA, the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Material Science and Technology, who have established a pioneering CO2 network in Switzerland and who will host the student for an internship.


In this project, we will develop novel low-cost CO2 sensors to create urban measurement networks to gain insights into carbon emission from cities. We will use flexible, ‘low-cost’ non-dispersive CO2 sensors (contributed by the National Centre for Earth Observation) that are now available. We will carefully characterise and calibrate the sensors (against reference sensors) and prepare them for autonomous operation benefitting from the experience of the commercial partner EarthSense Ltd. and the collaboration with EMPA. The sensors will be deployed in Leicester (mid-size) and London (megacity) taking advantage of a current, large UK project (NERC DARE-UK) which will facility access to sites and give exposure to the wider community. Using atmospheric modelling (UK Name model) information on CO2 surface fluxes will be obtained which will then be used to critically evaluate city CO2 emission. As a final step, the student will assess the potential for commercial applications together with EarthSense.


1. Duren, R.M and C.E.Miller (2012), Measuring the Carbon Emissions of Megacities, Nature Climate Change 2, 560–562, doi:10.1038/nclimate1629



UK/EU applicants

This research project is eligible for a fully funded College of Science and Engineering studentship which includes:

• A full UK/EU fee waiver for 3.5 years
• An annual tax free stipend (For 2019/20 this is currently £15,009)
• Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)

International Applicants
This project is eligible for a partially funded College of Science and Engineering studentship which includes:

• A full UK/EU fee waiver for 3.5 years (applicants will need to provide evidence they can fund the difference between the UK/EU fee and International fee for the duration of their studies)
• An annual tax free stipend of £15,009 (2019/20)
• Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)

Entry requirements

Entry requirements

Applicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Bachelor degree 2:1 or better in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

The University of Leicester English Language requirements apply where applicable.

Informal enquiries

Informal enquiries

Project / Funding Enquiries: 
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How to apply

How to apply

Please use the Apply button at the bottom of the page.

Select September 2020 entry.

Application Notes

We recommend you apply as early as possible so that any missing information can be obtained before the deadline.

In the funding section of the form state CSE2020 Boesch Studentship

In the research proposal section include the name of the supervisors and project title.  If you are applying for more than one project within Physics include details of each project.

In the personal statement section upload your completed CSE Studentship Form.  If you are applying for more than one Physics project complete a form for each project and email the additional forms to together with your application ID number.  If you are applying for projects in other subject areas please submit separate PhD applications online.

Upload a copy of your CV, copies of your degree certificates and transcripts if awarded and evidence of English language proficiency if applicable and available.

If you already have reference letters please upload these. If not enter the contact details of your referees in the reference section. Please ask your referees if they can submit their references as quickly as possible, ideally within two weeks of receipt of our reference request.

Application timetable

21st November Deadline for applications and all supporting documents 
9th December Interview invitations to be sent out by email
w/c 13th January 2020 Interviews
21st January 2020 Informal offers to be made
31st January 2020 Deadline for acceptable of informal offers 
The PGR Admissions Office will notify unsuccessful applicants once a decision has been made



UK/EU applicants

International applicants who can demonstrate that they can fund the difference in UK/EU and international fees