Experimental performance optimisation of homegrown natural fibre insulation for building decarbonisation


The research focuses on delivering energy efficiency and whole-life decarbonisation in buildings through the experimental performance optimisation of natural fibre insulation using a Scottish supply chain. It will prioritise the enhancement of its thermal conductivity properties whilst retaining the material's other qualities and optimising its use in the off-site timber panel industry in Scotland. Experimental natural fibre laboratory sample and building in-situ thermal testing will take place with the support of three industry project partners and two supporters that contribute towards obtaining a homegrown product that helps to meet net-zero targets by 2040.

Project background

At present, only two UK-manufactured products of natural fibre insulation exist in the market. All others, particularly wood fibre insulation materials are imported from mainland Europe. There is currently potential growth in this sector through existing Scottish forest capacity and recycled/ recovered sources. Therefore research is required to match and seek performance enhancement options that can reduce the embodied carbon in buildings whilst still providing energy efficiency and hygrothermal performance.

This research will contribute to the industrial processes and manufacturing strategic aim by working with leading industry stakeholders for the creation of samples and testing.

Other industry partners in this research include a Scottish timber off-site home manufacturer and a private housing developer. Both will provide insights into the integration of the insulation samples and access to timber panels for the in-situ testing required. Finally, there is support from forestry stakeholders who will help to define the supply chain required to develop the natural fibre samples and help in the outreach of results.

Research questions

To meet whole-life carbon performance the decarbonisation of materials in the built environment is required, including insulation products. Although most insulation in buildings primarily is added to reduce heat loss and contribute to energy efficiency and reduced emissions during its operation, it is the carbon intensity of the products themselves during their extraction, transportation and manufacturing which is often disregarded. Therefore, this research seeks to answer five research questions (RQ’s):

RQ1: Can an insulation material using homegrown materials from Scotland be created that is competitive in its thermal performance and carbon reduction?

RQ2: What laboratory-based analysis and considerations are needed to produce enhanced thermal performance insulation materials?

RQ3: Can a hybrid natural fibre mix and alternative additives maintain the hygrothermal performance

RQ4: Will a new enhanced product help the home-building industry to adopt more decarbonised materials into their panel designs?

RQ5: What whole-life and longitudinal benefits will its enhancement and adoption have to the new build home sector in Scotland?


This PhD project aims to develop an enhanced homegrown natural fibre insulation that reduces its thermal conductivity value by at least 15% below existing natural fibre and some synthetic insulation materials. The research is unique for its specific focus on using homegrown materials in innovative fibre & binding combinations that improve thermal and embodied carbon performance. The forestry and built environment industry partners bring a balance between the supply and demand challenges, as well as the importance of investing in such low-carbon materials which bring distinctive benefits to occupants. The five research questions (RQ’s) are addressed in the following three objectives:

1. create samples of wood fibre insulation using various natural fibre combinations, prioritising the use of natural binders and additives to enhance thermal and embodied carbon performance,

(delivers RQ1 & RQ3)

2. conduct small scale laboratory and large-scale building panel and mock building in-situ tests that outline the evidence-based results required to receive further investment and support, (delivers RQ2)

3. change the construction industry mindset on the use of natural fibre insulation by having a

material that has the potential to be sourced and manufactured in Scotland. (delivers RQ4 & RQ5)

To achieve the aim and objectives, the research will conduct a parametric analysis of existing materials, followed by an understanding of the fibre typology and its considerations. Before testing, various fibre configurations will be modelled, followed by the creation of appropriate samples for testing. Successful samples will then be added in a mock home and timber panel to demonstrate installed performance. Analysis of the results will form part of the research and its academic and industry-based conclusions.

Please note that applications will close at midday on the 20th February 2023.

Further Information: 


Successful candidates will join the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment and the newly formed Net Zero Accelerator Centre based part of the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh and will involve close collaboration with Edinburgh’s Centre for Future Infrastructure (EFI).

This project has close links with industry partners in Scotland as well as local authorities and other government groups for the dissemination and outreach of results. This opportunity also provides links to the Timber Technology Doctoral Centre part of the Centre for Offsite Construction & Innovative Structures (COCIS) based at Edinburgh Napier University. Joint supervision will take place between the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier University.

Interested applicants are welcome to contact Dr Julio Bros-Williamson by email for additional information (j.broswilliamson@ed.ac.uk). Applications should be submitted via the University’s online system.

The University of Edinburgh is committed to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students, and promotes a culture of inclusivity. Please see details here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/equality-diversity

Closing Date: 

Friday, February 10, 2023

Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 


  • Undergraduate/ Postgraduate in a Built Environment related degree
  • Desirable experience in laboratory testing
  • Preferably with an architectural technology or engineering background
  • Knowledge of tree and plant species for analysis and recognition.
  • Knowledge of thermodynamic behaviour of buildings, energy efficiency and whole-life carbon accountancy.
  • Knowledge of the UK net-zero carbon targets, legislation and requirements.
  • UK construction industry awareness with a specific interest in timber technology.

Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.


Tuition fees + stipend are available for applicants who qualify as Home applicants (International students can apply, but the funding only covers the Home fee rate)

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: