Doctoral student writing

The Future of Sustainable Mobility: markets, technologies and policies

  • School: Nottingham Business School
  • Starting: 2018
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Self-funded


As ever more countries seek to address the challenges of anthropogenic climate change, particular attention is being directed at personal mobility. Transport is now thelargest source of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the only sector where they continue to rise. Despite recent efforts to decarbonise transport, however, this sector remains over 95% dependent on fossil fuels. The world’s major carmakers continue to operate largely as they have been doing for decades, under market pressures that have created path dependency properties around the principal products demanded by consumers. These products continue to be dominated by the internal combustion engine. Even though these companies have considerable capabilities for technological innovation, these market conditions have limited the level of investment in these new technologies, given uncertainty over market conditions for these new products. Given this, there is a particular role for policymakers to play, in helping to create the right conditions for market growth of low-emissions products and technologies. This needs action to develop both the supply and demand sides.

Decarbonisation efforts have tended to take two simultaneous directions. First, alternative fuels compatible with current engine technologies – biofuels – are being promoted in many countries around the world. Second, new fuel sources are being developed which require different engine technologies. The growth of biofuels in the last two decades has been enabled not only by its compatibility with existing engines, but also the fact that the technology to produce biofuels, at least those derived from crops, is well-known and long established. Alternative engine technologies have, therefore, had greater technological hurdles to overcome to bring them to market. Government policies therefore have important roles to play, to promote research and development on the supply side, but also to promote uptake on the demand side. In recent years, however, especially in the context of the global economic crisis, governments have been unable or unwilling to devote resources to policies which are sufficiently robust and with adequate long-term stability to promote new technologies, products and markets.

The aim of this project, therefore, is to analyse the critical interplay between markets, technologies and policies in the decarbonisation of transport. The specific focus of this project is deliberately being kept open, to allow for applicants and potential supervisors to agree a specific focus aligned with interests and experience, subject only to the supervisory capacity available in Nottingham Business School. You will be joining a growing group of researchers and doctoral students working on sustainable mobility. This group of researchers possess a wide range of methodological supervision capacity including both quantitative and qualitative methods, scenario analysis and dynamic modelling. In addition, the group members are from multi-cultural background which not only helps widen our research perspectives but also benefits from international collaboration. As a result, we are comfortable with research proposals adopting either quantitative or qualitative methods, or indeed a mixed-method approach. We would expect potential applicants to demonstrate in their proposals a combination of critical thinking, through a critical literature review, and rigorous methodology, through a clear description of planned research strategy and methods.

So how might applicants develop this initial brief further? Markets can be defined by technology (eg biofuels, ultra-low emissions vehicles, etc), by geography (individual countries or regions, for example – but also even individual cities and local efforts to decarbonise transport, considering supply-side but also demand-side factors. Technologies can be considered individually (such as biofuels, plug-in technologies, etc), but also how different technologies may interact (including the evolution of different engine and fuel technologies), which compete on emerging markets as companies pursue their own strategies. Further, how do these factors evolve over time? For example, in the long term, will governments’ efforts to promote ultra-low and zero-emissions vehicles, in time, eliminate demand for biofuels? The experience of biofuels policy development has revealed the dangers for policymakers of not taking sufficient account of end-consumers’ preferences for new technologies. Is there, therefore, a particular need to embed consumer preferences in the supply-side development of new technologies and products?

These are given here as an indicative list of potential research projects, rather than a fixed and definitive list. We very much welcome enquiries from anybody who wishes to discuss their ideas around the future of sustainable mobility.


Ackrill, R. and A. Kay. (2014) The Growth of Biofuels in the 21st Century: Policy Drivers and Market Challenges. London: Palgrave.
Åhman, M and Nilsson, L. J. (2008) Path Dependency and the Future of Advanced Vehicles and Biofuels. Utilities Policy, 16, 80-89.
Dosi, G. (1982) Technological Paradigms and Technological Trajectories. Research Policy, 11, 147-162.
Linares, P. and Pérez-Arriaga, I. (2009) Promoting Investment in Low-Carbon Energy Technologies. European Review of Energy Markets, 3, 23pp.
Zhang, M. 2015. A New Paradigm of Transport Systems: Part of the Third Industrial Revolution? Journal of Sustainable Mobility, 2(2), 3-4.
Zhang, M. and Yazdani, B. 2014. Paradigm Change of Mobility in the Twenty-first Century. Journal of Sustainable Mobility, 1(1), 9-18.


Professor Rob Ackrill

Dr Michael Zhang

Entry qualifications

An applicant for admission to read for a PhD should normally hold a first or upper second class honours degree of a UK university or an equivalent qualification, or a lower second class honours degree with a Master's degree at Merit level of a UK university or an equivalent qualification.

International students will also need to meet the English language requirements - IELTS 6.5 (with minimum sub-scores of 6.0). Applicants who have taken a higher degree at a UK university are normally exempt from the English language requirements. A research proposal (between 1,000 and a maximum of 2,000 words) must be submitted as part of the application.

For more information please visit the NTU Doctoral School – Research Degrees webpages.

How to apply

How to apply

Applications are accepted all year round.

Download an application form here.
Please make sure you take a look at our application guidance notes before making your application.

Further information on how to apply can be found on this page.

Fees and funding

This is a self-funded PhD opportunity.

Guidance and support

Further information on guidance and support can be found on this page.

Still need help?

Rob Ackrill