Transition Engineering of Ferries and Freight in the Scottish Islands – Deck space optimisation through customer value interface


This project will seek to understand the drivers for how traffic is presented from key industry sectors like Tourism, Agriculture and Aquaculture and how these could be managed more effectively to enable NorthLink to utilise available deck space more fully across the year and at peak times.  This will enhance revenue generation and increase customer satisfaction levels by ensuring more people can travel on their first-choice travel dates. It will also rationalise the value and use of fossil fuel and provide the framework for reducing emissions while providing for the economic and social wellbeing of the Islands.

This PhD is focused on developing the conceptual framework, designing, testing and demonstrating a “Utilisation Demand Participation” tool. The tool will curate data for the freight of produce, products, fish and livestock from the islands and tourists and goods around the islands. In addition, the “UDP” tool will provide geospatial exploration of the transition to high utilisation of deck space that allows efficient reduction in fossil fuel use in freight transport on the ferries. An important novel element of the project is accounting for the customer value placed on the freight or the trip and factoring that into the information in the demand participation customer interface and in the deck utilisation models. The concept to be explored is the self-curation of freight demand information by local producers in the islands, the kinds of goods delivered throughout the islands and their time-sensitivity, and the modelling of the flows of these goods.

The project will work directly with Serco Northlink Ferries and the primary producers and with the supermarket chains and to develop data about seasonal, local and time sensitivity aspects of the freight task, and the freight demand adaptive capacity.

The project will explore blockchain as a way to curate reliable data in the freight supply chain and from primary production in the islands. The work will also use agent-based simulation tools like AnyLogic to study changes in ferry services to optimise utilization and minimise fuel use.[1]

Tourism travel demand both for foot traffic and car passengers are a complicating factor that intersects with freight demand during some peak periods. Car and caravan tourism takes up valuable freight deck space. The research will investigate possible changes to tourism sector services that could reduce or exclude tourist car and caravan ferry trips, and provide high quality tourism experience while managing the travel demand.

The objective of the PhD is to develop the necessary techniques to create freight demand data for a range of stakeholders and to process and analyse the results. The work will require use of ArcGIS and Python script to capture the geospatial nature of the Food Network. The intention of the research is to create a new tool that can be commercialised for use by communities around the world.

The multidisciplinary nature of the project requires a large supervisory team. It is expected that the student will be based primarily at Heriot-Watt University Orkney campus.

The supervisory team brings the following skill sets to the project:

Professor Susan Krumdieck: Energy Systems Engineering, Transport and Energy Engineering, Urban Form, Energy Transition

Professor Phil Greening: Freight supply chain systems

Professor David Flynn: Data analytics

The project is funded for 3 years and covers the PhD fees and stipend (currently £15 285 per annum).

This project is available to UK and International students. The successful candidate will have a B.Sc. (2:1 or higher) and M.Sc. (distinction) or equivalent, and ideally additional experience in computer science, modelling, image analysis or engineering, ideally with some experience of applying these skills to other disciplines (e.g. in the life sciences). You will have good programming skills, preferably in Python and ArcGIS or other advanced programming languages. Knowledge of survey protocols and social science frameworks would be advantageous. You will be highly self-motivated and confident enough to seek out solutions beyond the current team if required. Candidates that have some appreciation of freight transport or practical experience of working in the food industry. The PhD will require sea-time on board.  You will embrace new challenges and environments and be able to fit into new teams rapidly. You must be able to describe complex issues in a means that is accessible to ferrymen, primary producers and tourism operators with whom you will work.
How to apply

To apply you must complete our online application form. Please select PhD programme Energy Transition and include the full project title, reference number and supervisor (Prof SP Krumdieck) on your application form. Ensure that all fields marked as ‘required’ are complete.

You must complete the section marked project proposal; upload a supporting statement documenting your reasons for applying to this particular PhD project, and why you are an ideal candidate for the position.  You will also need to provide a CV, a copy of your degree certificate/s and relevant transcripts. You will be asked to enter details of an academic referee who will be able to provide a technical reference. Until your nominated referee has uploaded their statement, your application will not be marked as complete and will not be considered by the review panel. You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English within the last 2 years). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.

Please contact Prof Susan Krumdieck ( for further information or an informal discussion.

The ICNZ is anticipating advertising of the scholarship in November. Applicants must be available to start the PhD in 2023.


Submit to: Susan Smith


[1] Gallardo, P., R. Murray, S. Krumdieck, A sequential optimization-simulation approach for planning the transition to the low carbon freight system with case study in the North Island of New Zealand, Energies, 14(11), (2021) 3339.

Ferries and Freight

Ferries and Freight

PhD and MSc 


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