Understanding and formulation of the spatial effects of city economic and energetic characteristics on their resource consumption

Grantham Scholar Dr Ling Min Tan is now a Research Associate in Urban Decarbonisation, Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, The University of Sheffield. Her work is on Regional Emissions Budgeting Framework, Retrofit workflows for residential buildings and urban decarbonisation. At the Grantham Centre Ling Min’s project was on urban metabolism, a framework for understanding how efficient cities are. 

Background to the project

Cities are responsible for nearly 80% of global energy consumption. Further, more than half of the world’s population now live in cities. And predictions show the urban population will approach 5 billion people by the year 2030.

The increasing demands for energetic and landmass resources creates concerns about the sustainability of urban settlements. As a result, sustainable developments have become a major challenge, especially the issues of resource depletion and emission-related pollution.

Urban metabolism

Urban Metabolism’ is a valuable framework for understanding urbanisation and its consequences. It is used to explore the relation between cities morphology and their socio-economic characteristics based on analogy with the metabolism of an organism. Various models have been developed to study the input and output of materials (flows and stocks) between the city and its surrounding environment.

The purpose of this project is to develop a robust conceptual framework that describes the metabolic characteristics of a city. Examples of these characteristics are: resources use, energy consumption and waste emissions that intersect with the spatial and economic dimensions of the city.

Urban metabolism provides a foundation for urban planning and environmental policy making.

Outreach and publicity

What is urban metabolism? Interview with Ling Min Tan. The Grantham Centre interviewed Ling Min to find out more about urban metabolism. You can read the interview to find out what urban metabolism is and how it could help create a circular economy for cities.

Believe in yourselves women in STEM by Ling Min Tan. Ling Min wrote about women in STEM for our International Women’s Day 2018 feature.

Going with the flow: Bluedot festival 2018. In 2018 Ling Min and other Grantham Scholars went to Bluedot festival. With them was MOBIUS – a mobile tracking vehicle made by Urban Flows Observatory. Find out more in this blog written by them.

Ling Min Tan’s publications

Tan, L.M., Arbabi, H., Densley Tingley, D. et al. Mapping resource effectiveness across urban systemsnpj Urban Sustain 1, 20 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42949-020-00009-3

An ecological-thermodynamic approach to urban metabolism: Measuring resource utilization with open system network effectiveness analysis. We spoke to Ling Min about this paper and she provided us with an overview about it here.

Ecological network analysis on intra-city metabolism of functional urban areas in England and Wales.


Professor Martin Mayfield

Department of Civil and Structural Engineering


Dr Paul Brockway

School of Earth and Environment & Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds

Dr Danielle Densley Tingley

Department of Civil and Structural Engineering