Topics for bachelor and master theses

All bachelor and master theses supervised by our research group need to relate to ongoing research projects
(for general information on our group, visit https://www.wu.ac.at/en/ecolecon/research/global-resource-use).

For master theses, it is our target to jointly elaborate an article for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, where the student serves as the first author. Experience in writing English is therefore important.

If you are interested in one of the listed topics, please contact the topic area coordinators (Stefan Giljum, stefan.giljum@wu.ac.at and Martin Bruckner, martin.bruckner@wu.ac.at) and we will internally forward your request to the respective colleague.

TOPIC AREA

Extraction, trade and consumption of raw materials and related impacts
(Area coordinator: Stefan Giljum)

Supervisor(s)
(depending on the topic)

Stefan Giljum, Stephan Lutter, Mirko Lieber, Hanspeter Wieland, Victor Maus, Sebastian Luckeneder

Methods

Literature research, data analysis, environmental accounting, geospatial assessments

Minimum requirements

Interest in working with quantitative approaches, basic knowledge of the respective methods to be applied

Topic Short description
Environmental impacts of metal/mineral/fossil fuel extraction Investigate the environmental impacts of raw material extraction, focusing on selected raw materials and/or a selected country/region as an example; e.g. patterns of material extraction over the last two decades, which might be responsible for changes in environmental circumstances of the same area. Possible environmental impacts include water scarcity, deforestation, biodiversity loss, or pollution, among others. What environmental impacts can be considered as most relevant in the selected area and what data is available for these? What conclusions can be drawn from this data? What results have other studies achieved based on this data?
Water input in the mining industry Country case studies on water use in mining and its economic/political/ecological/social circumstances and implications
Use of primary vs. secondary raw materials Investigate how patterns of selected primary vs. secondary (i.e. recycled) raw material use changed over time; what data are available for secondary/recycled materials; how has the use of secondary materials changed in relation to primary materials; what’s the total global material consumption if including primary + secondary materials; in which areas do secondary/recycled material play an essential role; how large are recycling potentials for various materials; what are main uses of these materials and what future projections are made in the literature; which countries are role models of recycling and a circular economy and why?
Global trade and markets of metal scrap Investigate global trends in the trade of metal scrap (i.e. metals left over from product manufacturing and consumption, such as parts of vehicles or building supplies) and how scrap markets have developed in recent years.
Efficiency of different raw materials in comparison Analyse, for example, possible substitutions of metals/minerals with others based on available reserves and future technologies (e.g. materials for solid-state batteries vs. lithium-based batteries)
Processing of metallic minerals Provide an overview of efficiencies (in material and/or energetic terms) of contemporary processing technologies (e.g. best vs. worst practices) regarding metallic minerals and discuss this in the context of global trade. Focus required with regard to one raw material (bauxite, copper…) and/or region (South America, USA, Europe, China…) as well as specific products/supply chains.
Industrial use of metallic mineral products For selected economic sectors (such as car manufacturing, construction, electronics, etc.), provide an overview of the typical metal demand/use and discuss theoretical sustainability strategies for this sector.
Transport costs and biophysical trade patterns Theoretical or empirical work on transport costs as a driver of global (biophysical) trade flows.
Energy use in freight transport activities Investigate the structure of freight transport activities (air transport or maritime transport or rail transport) by countries worldwide to estimate the energy use of domestic and foreign economic agents.
TOPIC AREA

Food, land use (change), trade and consumption
(Area coordinator: Martin Bruckner)

Supervisor(s)
(depending on the topic)

Martin Bruckner, Victor Maus, Nikolas Kuschnig

Methods

Input-output analysis, GIS, (spatial) econometrics

Minimum requirements

Basic R knowledge, willingness to learn coding, basic knowledge of the methods to be applied

Topic Short description
Biomaterials in global value chains Evaluate the past and current material use of agricultural commodities, e.g. in the chemical industry, and investigate potential trajectories. Trace back biomaterials to the place of production of the agricultural feedstock, derive its footprints, and evaluate positive and negative environmental trade-offs.
Biofuels in global value chains Evaluate the past and current use of bioenergy, including biogas, biodiesel and ethanol. Trace back biofuels to the place of production of the agricultural feedstock, derive its footprints, and evaluate positive and negative environmental trade-offs.
Footprint of dietary patterns Compare the land, water and CO2 footprints of food consumption in different countries over time (1986-2017)
Tracing palm oil through global value chains Trace the flows of palm oil along international value chains and investigate uses for food and non-food products by country. Analyze changes over time.
Tracing … through global value chains Also other commodities can be traced from production to consumption, including e.g. meat, soya, cotton, etc.
Deforestation in Mato Grosso, Brazil Trace agricultural products and embodied land use change (LUC) from Mato Grosso, Brazil, to final consumers all over the world and assess how consumption in other places is driving for LUC in Mato Grosso.
Global flows of timber and wood products Set up national physical supply and use accounts for timber and wood products, including e.g. panels, pulp and paper. Trace carbon embodied in timber from forests to final consumption through international processing chains.
Footprint of organic agriculture How would global land use and land footprints change if the world would move to organic agriculture?
Carbon sequestration in 2030 Which trade structures would allow meeting the INDC targets of C sequestration in 2030 or would get us as close as possible?
Deforestation footprint Calculate and analyze the deforestation footprint of food and non-food products. Compare different methods and assumptions.
Eutrophication footprint Calculate the eutrophication related with crop production and animal husbandry and calculate the eutrophication footprint for food and non-food products
Econometric analysis of Land Use Change Investigate the drivers and/or impacts of land use change (e.g. deforestation, commercialisation) using econometric methods. Focal points may be agriculture (croplands, animal husbandry), forestry, mineral extraction, trade, infrastructure, or policy (e.g. zero-deforestation commitments, protected areas, etc.).
Potential data sources include land cover maps (e.g. https://globalforestwatch.org or https://lcviewer.vito.be/), and national or third party statistics (https://sidra.ibge.gov.br/ or https://trase.earth/). Areas of application could be, but are not limited to Brazil or Indonesia.
Students should have a good understanding of R, linear algebra and econometrics. Knowledge of or interest in spatial econometrics, GIS and Bayesian econometrics is beneficial.
Bioeconomy at the regional level Investigate resource extraction, trade linkages and value added of food- and non-food bioeconomy activities at the sub-national level in Austria. On the basis of available statistics and a quantitative survey, a regional input-output table (RIOT) with disaggregated biobased activities for a selected ‘Bundesland’ will be compiled. The RIOT needs to be analysed in the context of a potential bioeconomy transition subject to climate change. What are key resources and contributions of the bioeconomy at the regional level? What is the role of trade in the regional bioeconomy? What are potential climate vulnerabilities in biobased supply chains from farmer to end-user? Note that this topic can only be selected by a German-speaking candidate, in order to make full use of local/regional statistics.