Maritime autonomy for safe, fuel efficient port operations


The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Net Zero Maritime Energy solutions (N0MES) has a 4-year funded PhD place available for an exceptional researcher. With the support of the University of Liverpool (UoL), Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and 33 maritime energy sector partners, N0MES PGRs will pursue new, engineering-centred, interdisciplinary research to address four vital net zero challenges currently facing the North West, the UK and beyond:

a) Energy generation using maritime-based renewable energy (e.g. offshore wind, tidal, wave, floating solar, hydrogen, CCS);

b) Distributing energy from offshore to onshore, including port- and hinterland-side impacts and opportunities;

c) Addressing the short- and long-term environmental impacts of offshore and maritime

environment renewable energy generation, distribution and storage; and

d) Decommissioning and lifetime extension of existing energy and facilities.

Project Description

Maritime decarbonisation requires safe, fuel efficient ship operations in proximity to ports.  This project examines the role of autonomy in achieving this goal, and in particular the effective combination of machine and human domains in busy, hazardous port environments.  Two overriding imperatives in the implementation of autonomous operations across the sector are: (i) assurance of vessel and crew safety, and (ii) optimal routing and manoeuvring to reduce unnecessary energy use and prevent economic losses. 

The project aims to establish robust functional allocation for effective human-machine operation of autonomous vessels. The advantage of a human-agent partnership is that each element has its own strengths and weaknesses, and together they have the potential of being more effective than the sum of their parts. Whilst there is good understanding of the Allocation of Function, there is little guidance on communication and designing for shared mental models. Trust in autonomy is also immerging as a challenge for Human-AI implementation; factors associated with trust can be categorized as human influences (e.g., individual differences in terms of personality, experience), machine influences (e.g., robotic platform, levels of automation, failure rates, false alarms), and environmental influences (e.g. task type, operational environment, shared mental models).

The research approach aims to test the robustness of autonomous systems in dynamic and uncertain port environments. The research will develop use cases that evidence verification and validation, incorporate human values and ethics, meet regulatory requirements, and are tailored to the needs of maritime users and stakeholders to ensure they are explainable, understandable and accountable.

The project will apply novel data analysis and artificial intelligence technologies (AI) to provide new insights and opportunities for autonomous vessel navigation, particularly in the assimilation and upcycling of existing and sometimes redundant ‘big data’. Applying such methods to existing data allows for the enhancement of current tried and tested datasets, can provide better characterization of the maritime environment, advanced forecasting and early warning capabilities, and data for training new AI hazard and collision avoidance models.

Industrial partner: MarRI-UK and BMT


We want all of our staff and Students to feel that Liverpool is an inclusive and welcoming environment that actively celebrates and encourages diversity. We are committed to working with students to make all reasonable project adaptations including supporting those with caring responsibilities, disabilities or other personal circumstances. For example, If you have a disability you may be entitled to a Disabled Students Allowance on top of your studentship to help cover the costs of any additional support that a person studying for a doctorate might need as a result.

We believe everyone deserves an excellent education and encourage students from all backgrounds and personal circumstances to apply.

Applicant Eligibility

Candidates will have, or be due to obtain, a Master’s Degree or equivalent from a reputable University in an appropriate field of Engineering. Exceptional candidates with a First Class Bachelor’s Degree in an appropriate field will also be considered.

Application Process

Candidates wishing to apply should complete the University of Liverpool application form [How to apply for a PhD - University of Liverpool] applying for a PhD in Environmental Sciences and uploading: Degree Certificates & Transcripts, an up-to-date CV, two academic references and a supporting statement [maximum 300 words] detailing; what inspires you within this project, how your skill set matches the project, up to 3 examples showing your commitment to science, piece of science that excites you & anything else to support your application.


Candidates wishing to discuss the research project should contact the primary supervisor Jonny Higham [], those wishing to discuss the application process should discuss this with the CDT Manager Matt Fulton [].

Tel No. for Enquiries: 0151 795 7715


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

The EPSRC funded Studentship will cover full tuition fees of £4,786 per year and pay a maintenance grant for 4 years, starting at the UKRI minimum of £19,237 pa. for 2024-2025. The Studentship also comes with access to additional funding in the form of a research training support grant which is available to fund conference attendance, fieldwork, internships etc.

EPSRC Studentships are available to any prospective student wishing to apply including international students. Up to 30% of our cohort can comprise of international students and they will not be charged the fee difference between UK and international rate.