Project Highlights:

  • The candidate will form part of the large network of researchers and stakeholders (industries and governments) in the NERC-funded Air Quality Improvement Programme in the West Midlands (WM-Air), where additional technical and transferable skills will be learned
  • The project integrates measurements with modelling
  • The project results will directly support the development of policy actions by the Birmingham City Council and other local authorities to tackle air pollution problems, thus contributing to the improvement of welfare of residents in the West Midlands



World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that air pollution is associated with 7 million premature deaths per year globally. In the UK, air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths (Royal College of Physicians, 2016) and costs the economy £20 bn per year. In Birmingham, about 800 people die prematurely per year due to air pollution (both nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, PM). Birmingham City Council (BCC) has committed to reduce this number by 50%. To do this, it needs to quantitatively understand the sources and trends of air pollutant emissions so that cost-effective measures can be implemented.

Wood smoke is already a significant contributor to population weighted PM2.5 exposures as its emissions increased year by year (Fig. 1), and is liable to make an increasingly important contribution in the future (DEFRA, 2017). PM2.5 are fine particles that can enter into human lungs and damage human health. Domestic emissions of wood smoke have an especially high impact on ground-level concentrations relative to those from elevated sources. Short-term measurements in urban areas in the winter suggested biomass combustion as a main source of PM2.5 (Fuller et al., 2013; Heal et al., 2011) and contribute to nearly as much PM2.5 as traffic exhaust emission in central London (Crilley et al., 2015; Yin et al., 2015).

However, emissions of air pollutants from domestic biomass combustion are highly uncertain and the long-term contribution of biomass combustion to airborne particles in the UK remains unassessed.

Thus, the overall aim of this project is to quantify the contribution of wood combustion to air quality in the West Midlands. To do this, both field observations, receptor modelling and air quality modelling will be used.

This project will contribute (and add value) to a major NERC-funded research project (£5 m) – Air Quality Improvement Programme in the West Midlands (WM-Air), which involves more than 20 staff and researchers and over 15 external stakeholders. The project outcomes will provide scientific data to BCC and other local authorities in the UK to develop cost-effective measures to control air pollution from wood burning.

Figure 1 Increasing biomass burning emissions in the UK (DEFRA, 2017). It is clear that domestic wood use is making an increasing contribution to PM2.5 emissions.


  1. Field observations: PM2.5 will be collected at the Birmingham Air Quality Observatory (Yin et al., 2010)
  2. Laboratory analysis: Collected samples will be analysed using a number of chemical analysis techniques to obtain inorganic and organic tracers (Pant et al., 2014)
  3. Receptor modelling: Receptor models will be used to apportion the sources of PM2.5, including those from wood burning (Taiwo et al., 2014; Yin et al., 2010)
  4. Emission inventory (EI): wood burning activity data will be collected in collaboration with BCC, which will be used to estimate the emission of air pollutants from wood burning.
  5. Air quality modelling: suitable air quality models will be used to quantify the contribution of wood burning to the spatial PM2.5 concentrations in WM (Baggott et al. 2006; Barnesa et al. 2014), on which basis the health effects and costs will be estimated.

Training and Skills

The candidate will be trained to carry out field observation, laboratory chemical analyses and receptor modelling. He/she will also be trained to estimate the emission of air pollutants from wood burning, and to use air quality/health models to quantify the impact of wood burning on air quality and health.

Specific training on literature reading and scientific writing will be provided on a regular basis during weekly supervisory meetings.


Year 1: Field sampling, learning methodologies for chemical analysis of samples and receptor modelling techniques; collecting information for estimating wood burning activities in the West Midlands

Year 2: Carry out chemical analysis of the fine particle samples collected and receptor modelling and write up for publications; learn air quality modelling and estimate emissions of air pollutants from wood burning in the West Midlands

Year 3: Carry out air quality modelling to estimate the contribution of wood burning to air pollution in the West Midlands and validate the data against observations (satellite and ground observations, including those from WM-Air programme); write up for publications and for thesis

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

This project is co-developed with Birmingham City Council (Peter Porter and Mark Worcester). It is likely that this is developed into a CASE studentship but the tight timescale of the proposal deadline makes it impossible to secure an exact commitment from Birmingham City Council for now.

An external supervision from BCC as an end user will be provided to the studentship.


Further Details

Please add project/institutional contact details including a link to the application website if applicable


Dr. Zongbo Shi (z.shi@bham.ac.uk; 0121 414 9128)

Dr. Xiaoming Cai (x.cai@bham.ac.uk)