Semester or master projects

Topics for semester projects supervised by Prof. Philippe Thalmann with his team at LEURE

The topics below can be analyzed individually or in groups of 2 students maximum. Each project will be co-supervised by Prof. Philippe Thalmann and a senior collaborator or PhD student of his lab LEURE. Students are expected to produce a scientific report and defend it in an intermediate and a final presentation, according to the regulation applying to the course under which they register for the semester project. The expected length of the scientific report and research work in general will depend on the number of credits for the course.

Les sujets sont proposés en anglais, mais les rapports peuvent être rédigés en français ou anglais, à convenir avec l’enseignant.

If you are interested in one of these topics, prepare a half-page draft in which you describe which topic you are interested in and what specific issue you would examine, and send this to Prof. Thalmann.

Topics proposed in Spring 2024

The role of food-based biofuels for the agri-food system in the context of a “farm to fork” strategy

Biofuels are set to play a key role in the transition to a low-carbon society. But biofuels are a double-edged sword that can have considerable effects on sustainability, both positive and negative, depending on how they are aligned with the agri-food system as a whole. For example, increasing Europe’s self-sufficiency in livestock feed can lead to a reduction in international deforestation, an increase in the production of oil as a by-product, higher incomes for farmers, a reduction in the consumption of oil-based fuels, and so on. On the other hand, increasing biofuel production independently of the agri-food system can lead to more land being converted to cropland, indirect changes in land use, deforestation, etc. European biofuel policy is primarily motivated by climate change, regardless of the characteristics of the agri-food system. The aim of this theme is to define the role of food-based biofuels in the agrifood system, taking into account its current and future dynamics. This involves estimating the sustainable volume of (food-based) biofuels that can be produced given the current and future agrifood system (e.g. change in diet, trade balance, production system, etc.).

The true cost of food through a biorefinery perspective

The “true cost of food” consists of evaluating, monetising, and internalising the costs and benefits (e.g. social, environmental and health impacts) of the agri-food production systems. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the hidden costs of the agri-food system at the global level amount to at least 10 trillion PPP dollars in 2020. This study does not take into account the downstream non-food value chain (cotton, tobacco, biofuels, etc.). However, these are often food by-products that can have positive or negative effects on sustainability. This topic aims to study how accounting for the hidden benefits and costs of biofuels affects the true cost of food. The aim is to assess and compare the real cost of a specific foodstuff (e.g. beef or rapeseed oil), considering the impact of their production processes and downstream by-products (e.g. biodiesel).

Analysing a rich dataset on the sustainability of Swiss buildings

REMMS compiled sustainability indicators and ratings for over 3 million objects (buildings and dwellings). This data can be used for all sorts of analyses, e.g., identifying spatial regularities, comparing observed and modelled energy use or CO2 emissions, testing the relationship between sustainability and age of building, etc.

Topics possibly proposed in Fall 2024

Provisioning systems for sustainable housing- and mobility-related satisfiers in Switzerland

Based on Manfred Max-Neef’s fundamental human needs, choose a synergistic satisfier with significant sustainability improvement potential, for example shared living spaces, mixed-use neighborhoods, or urban agroecology, and identify possible provisioning systems to produce and supply such satisfiers. Analyze literature and today’s practice, interview experts, and compare the characteristics and effectiveness (improve wellbeing and reduce footprint) for the main types of provisioning systems evaluated.

Defining Decent Living Standards (DLS) for Switzerland and quantifying final energy needs

Adapt the DLS global perspective to Switzerland, and identify the critical parameters to be explored and validated with key stakeholders. Estimate a range for such parameters based on literature and calculate the required final energy; develop a simple spreadsheet-based model to test.

What is a neighborhood? Scale of aggregation for alternative service provision

Which essential (daily) local services should be best provisioned at which scale: building, group of buildings, historical neighbourhoods, or simply a certain size in meters or number of people? “Best” is here defined in terms of resource use, universal access, governance, quality of service and resulting quality of life, and ultimately as providing synergistic satisfiers. Focus on low density neighbourhoods: which could be developed and which demolished?

Shared spaces

Based on literature, identify successful and unsuccessful space sharing models, such as share kitchens, guest rooms, reception rooms, activity spaces etc. Summarize and propose new models designed to minimize m2 per person and facilitate shared activities, leading to higher wellbeing with less resources. This topic is specifically for architecture students.

Material requirements for renovation of the Swiss habitat

In a broad renovation program for the Swiss building stock (energy efficiency, repurposing shared spaces), how much of the needed materials could be reused from old buildings destined for demolition? How will this reuse affect renovation practices?

What is needed to reduce Swiss urban sprawl to its level of 1935?

In collaboration with Jochen Jaeger, Concordia University, who developed the “Weighted Urban Proliferation” metric, estimate the effects of a renovation + space repurposing program focused on more wellbeing with less m2 per person, and demolishing poorly placed buildings. Analytical and/or GIS approach.

Towards a carbon-neutral digital footprint

Digital transformation is a double-edged sword for climate change. On the one hand, it offers numerous opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the use of certain natural resources (for example, by tracking, monitoring and optimising progress in sustainable development). On the other hand, it is responsible for massive energy consumption by data centres and the manufacture of equipment. Analyse past, current and future trends in digital-related activities in Switzerland. Assess energy consumption, resource use and associated greenhouse gas emissions. Analyse the potential for carbon-neutral solutions to address the digital carbon footprint for Switzerland (e.g., data centres coupled with district heating, energy efficiency technology).

Modelling air pollutants

Air pollutants cover a disparate range of emissions including nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone (O3), ammonia (NH3), particulate matter or suspended dust (PM2.5 and PM10), soot carbon (BC) and carbon monoxide (CO). These emissions have a significant impact on health and the environment, and generate substantial costs for society. Some sources of these emissions are linked to the combustion of fossil fuels, so any ambitious climate policy could drastically reduce these emissions and generate significant economic benefits in terms of health, which could exceed the economic costs of the climate policy. It is therefore essential to estimate these positive spin-offs associated with the fight against global warming.

The aim of the work is to study the determinants of these emissions for each type of pollutant, which may vary according to the source of these emissions, the technologies used, the energy sources used, etc. Next, to propose appropriate economic modelling and to assess future trends in these emissions on the basis of certain assumptions about economic development, whether people are more or less interested in environmental issues, technological innovations, etc.

Carbon footprint of European regions, exposure and vulnerability to the energy transition

The European Green Deal will impact the European regions differently, and there is a broad consensus that policies, in general, impact differently between sectors and geographical regions. Admittedly, the political resistance to climate policy tends to be more pronounced in countries that heavily depend on fossil fuel exports and have carbon-intensive energy systems or countries with ETS sectors that constitute a more significant part of their economy. Increasing regional inequality can intensify opposition against European policies and EU construction.

Considering that there is little information on the carbon intensity of European regions, the goal of this master project is to build carbon footprint indicators at the European level using the NUTS2 regional level that describes 242 regions and to derive from these indicators’ exposure and vulnerability risk again the energy transition. The primary data source will be the Eurostat database, and the work will take as a basis the existing work on this topic.