Agent-Based Modelling of Adoption of Novel Proteins in the UK: Impacts and Interactions with Transitions to Sustainable Systems

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: The Centre for Environmental Policy


Strategic themes: Mathematical Sciences, Energy
Research Area(s): Resource Efficiency, Non-Linear Systems

Research objectives of the project:

Sustainable protein sources are a key component in achieving global climate goals. However, much uncertainty remains, especially with regards to how this techno-social transition may occur. The research aims to develop realistic computational simulations of individual decision-making to understand this 'how'. The key objective is to construct a bottom-up model that can reliably, with appropriate uncertainty, simulate trajectories of the adoption of novel sustainable protein (e.g. plant-based, cell-based, insect) in British consumers, and pose 'what-if' scenarios to generate evidence of a range of possible outcomes. Embedded in this is the analysis of interactions between several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - namely hunger (SDG2), energy (SDG7), health (SDG3), land (SDG14), water (SDG6) and climate (SDG13) systems. Specifically, it seeks to answer the following question - how may accelerators and barriers to widespread adoption of novel proteins by British consumers impact sustainable food transitions and related systems?

The novel science methodology of the research within EPSRC's remit. What will the student be doing?

The project will employ an agent-based modelling (ABM) approach to simulate the adoption of novel proteins within the British public. The novel element of this research is twofold. This project, using an ABM approach, is among the first to model this particular transition. It pursues a systems led approach that cuts across research disciplines, assimilating evidence and data from the mathematical and social sciences. Secondly, the interactions between SDGs continues to receive much research interest, with a number of different methods being applied. However, none to date have employed an ABM approach. The outputs of this project will offer new insights that existing methods have difficulty in capturing, for example the non-linearity and unpredictability of interactions. Furthermore, it will provide evidence to policymakers on how best to support uptake of novel proteins, and to industry and manufacturers on scientifically grounded consumer adoption trajectories. Specifically, the student will be studying how the factors for acceptance or rejection for conventional protein substitutes (e.g. plant-based, cell-based, and insect alternatives) at the individual level, may play out at societal level, and the possible non-linear, path dependent nature of adoption and mass behaviour change. The student will also, taking a systems approach, link these food choices to a set of energy, greenhouse gas emissions, health, land, and water impacts to understand wider SDG interactions and the consequences for resource efficiency.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509486/1 01/10/2016 31/03/2022
2035260 Studentship EP/N509486/1 01/10/2018 31/03/2023 Matthew Ford Gibson