EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Civil Engineering

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Civil & Environmental Engineering


This proposal concerns the creation of an internationally leading Centre for doctoral training in sustainable civil engineering. The widest possible definition of sustainability is adopted, with the Centre covering the effective whole life design and performance of major civil engineering infrastructure. This includes the re-appraisal and re-use of existing infrastructure and the opportunities afforded by multiple-use. This sector is widely reported to face major problems recruiting the type, quality and number of people required. The Centre will address the key challenges of fit for purpose, economic viability, environmental impact, resilience, infrastructure inter-dependence, durability as well as the impacts of changes in population, urbanisation, available natural resources, technology and societal expectations. This requires a broad-based approach to research training, effectively integrated across the wide range of disciplines presently encompassed within the civil engineering profession. Very few academic institutions are capable of providing in-depth training across this range of subjects. However, the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Imperial College, recently (QS 2013) ranked number one in the world against its competitor departments, is uniquely placed within the UK to achieve exactly this.

The Centre will recruit high quality, ambitious engineers. The doctoral training will combine intellectual challenge, technical content and rigor, with focused involvement in the practically important problems presently faced by the civil engineering profession. Advice and guidance from a high-level and broadly-based industrial advisory panel will be important in achieving the latter. Most importantly, the CDT will equip students with an appreciation of the wider context in which their research work is undertaken. The proposed programme is clearly designed to be PhD-PLUS; where the PLUS relates to a clear understanding of the breath of the problem within which their specific research sits, with a strong emphasis on sustainability. This latter component will include the industrial perspective, the societal need, the long term sustainability of the work and its immediate impact. The proposed CDT will make a difference by producing high quality civil engineers who understand global sustainability issues, in the widest possible context, and who have the skills and vision to eventually lead major infrastructure development projects or research programmes.

Training will combine intensive taught training modules, group working around Grand Challenge projects in collaboration with industry and high quality research training. Project-based multi-disciplinary collaborative working will be at the core of the CDT training experience, modelling the way leading companies explore design options involving mixed disciplinary teams working together on ambitious projects. Working on a real-world problem, the students will have to interact extensively with others to understand the problem in detail, to develop holistic potential solutions, to assess these solutions and to identify the uncertainties and questions that can only be answered through further research. They will develop skills associated with coping with complexity, being able to make value-based decisions and being confident with interdisciplinary working. They will also be heavily involved in identifying and defining the research problem within the wider multi-faceted project and so will gain a much broader perspective of how specific research developing responsible innovation fits within a large civil engineering project. Overall, this approach is much more likely to develop the additional skills required by industry compared to conventional doctoral civil engineering training.

Planned Impact

Academic impacts are described in the previous section. This section summarises industrial and societal impacts.

Over the period of EPSRC funding, the CDT will train at least 60 bright and highly capable engineers in an areas where there is an acute shortage of appropriately skilled people. Most of the graduates are expected to play a leading role in sustainable civil engineering practice over the next 40 years.

The research outputs from Centre research will include new understanding, innovative approaches, inventions, patents and new tools. These will be used by practising engineers to produce more sustainable civil engineering operations and infrastructure, including buildings, bridges, offshore structures, dams, tunnels, pipelines, energy infrastructure and roads. The Pathways to Impact document describes measures designed to accelerate this impact.

The outputs and activities of the Centre are expected to lead to the creation of new companies ranging from consultants providing expert guidance on sustainability issues, through to companies developing and supplying more sustainable construction systems and materials.

The potential benefits to Society of taking a more sustainable approach to civil engineering are enormous, as set out in Ref1: Civil engineering is about creating, improving and protecting the environment in which we live. It provides the facilities needed for commerce, industry and day-to-day life, such as water and energy supply, transport and buildings. This is and has always been done against a background of change. However the rate of change is now increasingly rapid, bringing a number of challenges arising from an increasing and ageing population accompanied by increasing urbanisation, a vast infrastructure legacy that needs to be maintained or replaced, and the need to move to a low carbon economy, whilst not further compromising biodiversity. This is not being driven by a single issue (such as climate change) but is the result of the complex interaction of many pressure bumping up against what the planet can actually provide.

How we engineer our infrastructure in the future is likely to have a major influence on our ability to live within the sort of planetary boundaries being proposed. The graduates from this Centre are expected to be better equipped than any others to address these challenges for the benefit of mankind. Impacts of the research are likely to include:
a) greater safety and resilience - infrastructure more certain to meet future needs (e.g. by improved modelling of long-term behaviour);
b) less impact of civil engineering on the natural environment (e.g. by low-carbon construction);
c) reduced consumption of limited natural resources (e.g. by developing the circular economy);
d) improved quality of life (e.g. reduced disruption by developing longer life infrastructure with reduced need for maintenance or repair);
e) more economic infrastructure (e.g. by developing multiple use infrastructure or getting more value out of existing infrastructure).

Ref1 ICE, 2010, Engineering to live within Planetary Boundaries: Research Needs for Civil Engineering, Institution of Civil Engineers, London, pp.1-12.


10 25 50