Climate Resilient, Net and Autonomous Zero Emission Buildings and Communities (NZEB) – Definitions and Prototypes for the UK/Northern Ireland context

Apply and key information  

This project is funded by:

    • Built Environment Scholarship


Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to 50% by 2030 and industrialized nations must achieve net zero emissions by 2050. That is an enormous challenge, but the stakes are high and the building and related industry sector must and will contribute to the effort.  This PhD project will contribute new knowledge for the transition towards a net zero carbon built environment.

This project aims to develop climate resilient, net and autonomous zero emission building (NZEB) concepts & strategies for temperate climates in selected UK/NI locations, such as Ulster University Belfast Campus and neighbourhood including strategies for social housing and student accommodation for both deep retrofit and new build. The nZEB building concepts should be designed with minimal CO2eq emissions (both operational emissions and embodied emissions for materials), be energy efficient, use local environmental-friendly materials and solutions, utilise passive climatisation strategies, use local renewable energy sources, have a healthy indoor environment, be cost optimal and be adapted to the local context, needs and preferences. This will allow for an increased living standard and at the same time result in a transition to the decarbonisation of the built environment.

The PhD research will pursue the following objectives:

* Identification of existing concepts for nZEB in temperate climates (comprehensive literature review of methods, tools, technologies, strategies for energy efficiency, passive design, and renewables integration).

* Adaptation of the Norwegian nZEB model, method and pilot design strategies for temperate climates in selected urban UK/NI locations. Development of representative designs and benchmarks for nZEBs in temperate climates;

*Combined passive and active solutions for optimal environmental quality.

*Cost optimal and low emission building envelope components

*Modelling, design and optimisation of the renewable energy technologies including solar (e.g. building integrated solar energies such as BIPV/T, semi-transparent PV windows, batteries). The student is expected to explore other site specific building integrated renewable technologies.

*Data sources, data analytics and visualisation modelling and development in collaboration with ongoing research being conducted by Professor Houlihan Wiberg.

*Practical demonstration of “innovation hubs” showcasing exemplary models of smart, net zero emission, intelligent and citizen-oriented neighbourhood and,or real case study for NZEBs in a temperate climate in selected UK/NI locations.

a. Case Study 1 - Net Zero Carbon Neighbourhood  Belfast Campus, Ulster University Involving collaboration with Belfast City Council, the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) project, Nerve Center/Fab Lab Belfast. The design will involve knowledge transfer from selected Demo neighbourhoods in project (;  ZEN pilot neighbourhoods ( led by Dr. Gaitani, NTNU/ZEN

b.  Case Study 2 - Net Zero Carbon Building Social and student housing around Belfast campus (retrofit / new build) Involving collaboration with Belfast City Council and in line with Ireland’s Programme for government five-year plan for the Deep Retrofit for 500,000 homes, New Green Deal involving a step change in social housing new build programme.

Essential criteria

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study.

We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

Equal Opportunities

The University is an equal opportunities employer and welcomes applicants from all sections of the community, particularly from those with disabilities.

Appointment will be made on merit.

Funding and eligibility

This project is funded by:

  • Built Environment Scholarship

This scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home/EU and Overseas rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 15,285 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance).

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Key dates

Submission deadline
Sunday 8 November 2020

Interview Date
1 December 2020

Preferred student start date
January 2021


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