Living in a material world: critical materials and the shift to electric vehicles – a legal analysis

Level of study
Doctoral research
Subject area
EU, Overseas (Non-EU), UK
Type of Award
Deadline for applying
Closed 05/07/2019 (Note: competition closed for this year)

Award Description

This is an exciting opportunity to undertake a PhD as part of a large (£9.4m) research project which arises out of the shift from petro-diesel to electric motor vehicles. The ReLib project anticipates significant volumes of lithium-ion batteries  coming into use and eventually reaching a point at which their capacity is no longer adequate to efficiently drive a motor vehicle. The project explores possible governance mechanisms to help shape a circular economy involving the re-use and recycling of lithium-ion batteries.

One driver for a circular economy approach is the access to strategic elements and critical materials that recycling would offer. Currently it is less costly to mine virgin lithium, cobalt, rare earths etc. than it is to access secondary material resources. Many crucial materials are sourced from very limited markets, so that (for example) two-thirds of the world's cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the failure to take account of the environmental and social costs of the mining of this material that makes virgin materials appear less costly.  Hoever, a true circular economy approach would  begin to take critical materials seriously and to promote recyclates. The PhD research would explore mechanisms by which the social and environmental costs of newly mined materials might be internalised into the pricing and ask wider questions about national and regional approaches to  security of critical materials.  As such the PhD research is likely to involve questions of trade, environmental, labour and human rights law.

Value of Award

Successful candidates will commence study in 2019-20.

The studentship is available for three years full-time and will cover PhD tuition fees for UK/EU and international students, plus a stipend at the research council rate of £15,009 per annum.

Eligibility Criteria

Applicants should have a good first degree and a Master’s degree in law. An interest or background in environmental and (or) energy law would be advantageous. The successful candidate will work in a multi-disciplinary team with researchers from several universities and must be prepared to work across science and social science disciplines. There is a well developed training programme for doctoral students.

How to Apply

Applications for this studentship should be sent to the College of Arts and Law Graduate School:   

Applicants are required to submit the following:

  • A covering letter
  • A CV
  • A sample of writing of no more than 5,000 words relevant to the themes of the research project
  • The names and emails of two referees


Professor Robert Lee

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