Meet the education department at CAT

This week, the education department will take over the facebook, twitter and blog pages. Before that however, I will give you a quick introduction to our department and the work we are doing.

IMG_4065

During school terms, we have lots of children around the site. Schools, colleges and universities often come on day trips to CAT. It is then the work of the education department to welcome them and show them around CAT. Schools can also book lessons and hands on activities on subjects such as climate change, eco footprinting or renewable energy. Most of the students we get are from Wales but some also come from the Midlands, Liverpool or even Singapore.

Children taking part in environmental education activities during Autumn half term at CAT

On site, we also have two eco-cabins where school or university groups can stay for up to a week. The two cabins can host up to 36 students and their stay is overseen by the education department. Whilst in the cabins, the students have to manage their own energy and water consumption, which can be accurately monitored from inside the cabins. The electricity comes from a wind turbine, solar panels and a micro hydro turbine. This is a unique educational experience where they leave the cabins with a better understanding of how much energy is required for our daily life’s activities.

The Eco Cabins viewed from Roger's field

The education department also works on other educational projects, often with local schools. One of them is the biosphere project. As you may know, the Dyfi valley has been designated by UNESCO as a biosphere, which is a site of global importance for how people and landscape relate to each other. This project, set up with local schools, is aimed at showing the children how special this area is, locally and globally.

The education department is also involved in other exciting educational projects, which we will present to you throughout the week.

IMG_4090

Applications for long term volunteer placements starting September 2011 at CAT now open

With over 35 years experience, CAT is dedicated to informing, inspiring and enabling in the field of sustainability through a diverse range of activities. The Centre offers information and education and has a visitor and conference centre. We attract around 60,000 people a year and employ more than 100 dedicated and creative staff.

Volunteers are extremely important to the work at CAT and the achievements over the last 30 years simply wouldn’t have happened without the hard work, inspiration and dedication of the initial idealists who founded the centre in 1975.

Long Term Volunteers (LTV’s) come every March and September to work full time for 6 months in various departments across CAT.  Whilst gaining hands-on valuable work experience and learning more about sustainability during their unpaid placement, individuals make a valuable contribution to the work of CAT which is highly appreciated.

Volunteers will most probably be taken in the following department:

1) Biology
2) Buildings and Site Maintenance
3) Displays
4) Education
5) Engineering
6) Gardens
7) Information
8 ) Marketing
9) Media
10) Web
11) Membership

Applications are now being taken for our long term volunteer placements starting September 2011 at CAT. Information is available at www.cat.org.uk/jobs

Open Source Digital Fabrication

A few weeks ago a project was started here at CAT to research and develop open source digital fabrication methods.   Digital fabrication tools allow us to build precise parts for everyday useful objects; and have been used for rapid prototyping in industry for many years.  The focus of this project is to make such tools accessible at a community level, a bit like having access to a master craftsman in your local town or village, but in digital form.

A key aspect of this project is that all software source code and hardware designs are available freely under the GNU General Public License.  Open sourcing allows a horizontal transfer of technology, gives greater autonomy for local communities to build the technology they need, and enables them to tap into a global knowledge base. It often gives rise to greater modularity in design (easier to fix, maintain and integrate), and thus in many cases better re-use of materials and components: leading to a cradle-to-cradle lifecycle.

Our initial focus is the RepRap 3D printer: a fabricator that can self replicate many of its component parts, thus the technology can be easily passed on to other communities. Documentation can be found at www.reprap.org .  A RepRap can print using a variety of plastics (such as starch based biodegradable PLA).  Other materials will also be investigated, such as ceramic extrusion and wood milling. An analogy for this project is like the symbiotic relationship between bees and flowers. In the same way bees pollinate flowers in return for nectar, humans will assemble machines in return for useful objects. In this way, both parties mutually benefit and human creativity and innovation can still evolve.

Local manufacturing itself should give rise to ‘just in time’ ‘pull-type’ production as opposed to a centralised ‘push’ approach with its associated inefficiencies of storing and distributing goods (naturally there will always be energy/ecological/social trade offs between the two methods).  Digital fabrication is just one of many tools for localised production and living; other aspects are still to be explored within the open source eco-system, such as energy production, material extraction, transportation and agriculture.

At CAT one focus will be the application of these tools for building parts for our displays and renewable energy systems such as molds for wind turbine aerofoils, pelton wheels, mechanical cogs, connectors, jigs and fixings. The project is open to discussion on what the best approaches might be for given situations, and also to explore the infinite realm of ideas on what we can build!

To follow progress of this work, please visit the blog www.digitalfabcat.blogspot.com and feel free to share your findings, links, experiences and thoughts for applications in this collaborative project.

CAT Volunteer Open Day

Tuesday 7th June 2011 11am til 4pm

Come and find out more about volunteering opportunities at CAT and previous, current and potential volunteers are invited up for lunch, 1pm.

Volunteering opportunities are flexible – some people come and volunteer full-time, some come up for just a few hours per month.

People from the area are invited to come up to CAT on Tuesday 7th June to a volunteer open day. Entrance is free, and we’ll have a free lunch on offer at 1pm. You can take a look around the site, meet staff, meet new and old volunteers, and chat about opportunities at CAT.

For more information, or if a weekend or evening meeting is more convenient, please contact Candy Bedworth on 01654 704971 or email: volunteer@cat.org.uk

dsc_0254

Discover a new Wales at the Welsh Living Landscape Festival Sunday 29th and Monday 30th May – 10am to 17.30pm

Visitors are being invited to discover a new Wales at the Welsh Living Landscape Festival, May 29th-30th.

This vibrant and informative weekend event, which is open from 10am to 5.30pm on both days, is packed with fun activities, workshops, arts, talks and entertainment for all the family.

Local experts will bring the local landscape alive, explaining its geology and the fascinating history that has shaped it. From farming to forestry, slate quarries to sustainable building, visitors will be able to experience the magic of the Welsh landscape through new eyes.If you’ve ever wanted to explore the varied and wondrous ecosystems around us and to find out about the people who depend on them, this is your opportunity.

Grace Crabb, Ecologist and woodland manager at CAT said:
“Landscapes are incredibly important in Wales. How we manage our landscapes it vital to our rural economy and is also vital to protecting the incredible biodiversity we have here. We’re putting on the Living Landscapes Festival to help the public understand the unique landscapes we have here”

Julie Bromilow, Education Officer at CAT said:
“It’s vital that we begin to understand how landscapes might change as we adapt to climate change. The Living Landscapes festival is all about helping people explore what landscapes mean to them and why they are important”

CAT shortlisted for the prestigious Ashden Awards. CAT’s courses in renewable energy and sustainability shortlisted for sustainable energy award

The Centre for Alternative Technology has been shortlisted for the prestigious Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy

CAT’s courses in renewable energy and sustainability have been recognised as a vital part of moving the UK towards a low carbon future by the judges of the Ashden Awards.

Paul Allen, Outreach Director at CAT said: “Being shortlisted for the Ashden Awards is a huge honour. Our educational and training programmes in renewable energy and energy efficiency are vitally important as we move to a low carbon society. We are delighted that the Ashden Award judges have recognised this and shortlisted CAT.”

CAT has been shortlisted for the award in recognition of its education and training work. The centre runs courses aimed at training people in the skills the country will need to make the transition to sustainable energy. These cover a variety of renewable energy technologies and sustainable building techniques, and take place in CAT’s newly-constructed Wales Institute for Sustainable Education.

CAT’s postgraduate programmes cover renewable energy and sustainable building techniques. They are designed for professionals wanting to work in the development of renewable energy and sustainable building projects, and combine both theoretical and practical components. CAT’s renewable energy postgraduate course covers all renewable energy technologies. During the course students work on real, functioning renewable energy installations that power the teaching facilities at CAT.

CAT’s unique sustainable architecture course covers both the theory and practice of sustainable building. Students gain hands-on experience working with low impact building materials such as earth, hemp and clay. CAT’s postgraduate students leave able to gain employment in a wide variety of sustainability, ecological building and renewables projects.

CAT also runs courses for plumbers and electricians to gain the qualifications they need to become renewable energy installers. CAT is one of the few places in the country where people can come and learn to install solar water heating, solar electric and wood heating systems.

The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) teams up with Shambala festival to demonstrate sustainable buildings to festival goers.

For the last three years CAT and Shambala have been working together to make Shambala the greenest UK festival by producing the most detailed carbon audit of any UK event. This year, Shambala achieved the highest ever rating from the Industry Green assessment, and, alongside CAT, have been working with Julie’s Bicycle (www.juliesbicycle.com) to make changes at Industry level.

“Shambala is 99% powered by wind, sun and waste vegetable oil and has been judged the greenest outdoor event by Industry Green and A Greener Festival ” Sidharth Sharma, Director & Creative Coordinator of Shambala festival

This year CAT is teaming up with Shambala to demonstrate sustainable building to festival goers. As part of a shared commitment to sustainable futures (and having fun), the CAT team will be on-site showing what can be constructed with natural raw materials.

“Houses out of hemp, Walls out of willow, Towers out of timber, Structures out of straw and Arches out of earth – Come and help us explore the new worlds of zero-carbon building!” said Peter Harper from CAT.

shambala2

The Shambala Festival has blended music, art, creativity and participation all in into perfect bite size chunks of brilliance for well over a decade. It is now firmly established and respected as being one of the most innovative, creative and environmentally conscious festivals in the industry.

Set across 4 days on the August Bank Holiday weekend, the variety and quality of entertainment on offer is staggering for a festival of its size. With over 200 diverse musical acts across 12 live stages, world-class cabaret, stand-up comedy, inspirational talks and debates, jaw dropping circus and acrobatics, interactive theatre and nationally acclaimed poetry all housed in beautifully crafted venues.

shambala1

Woodland management

At CAT we manage the woodlands to enhance their biodiversity and maintain a range of habitats for wildlife. We thin the trees to keep a continuous canopy, favouring certain species and removing others. This provides us with a range of sizes and species of trees that we can covert in to different products. Part of my job is developing the uses of our timber and trying to create marketable products such as rustic furniture, turnery and garden products, gaining a sustainable economic benefit along side the environmental and social functions of our lovely woodland.

When the trees are cut down, usually in the winter period when the sap is low, the wood is graded in to levels of usefulness. Small diameter straight stems for bean poles and plant supports and slightly larger stems for hedge stakes. Any other small diameter stems go to make charcoal in our retort. Medium diameter straight logs of ash, willow, beech, sycamore, lime and birch are kept for green woodworking and rustic furniture and large straight logs of oak, beech, douglas fir, western red cedar and larch for milling in to sawn timber or are split for fencing or construction. Any wood that can not be converted in to woodland products we leave for firewood. It is left in logs, or ‘in the round’, for a year then split, chopped and stacked for another year so it is very well seasoned. On site we have used a variety of different stacking methods including the rather attractive round German woodpile called a Holzhaufen.

dsc_00032

Over the few months or so we have provided poles for some of the courses run on site, supplied Chloe and Roger with bean poles and pea sticks for the gardens and made some door knobs for the renovations in site community. I have also made a gate, a simple bench and a few items of turnery out of green wood on our pole lathe, including rounders bats, honey spoons and garden dibbers. The list of items to make is set to grow as long as I can keep escaping from the office to the bodger’s shelter!

Reedbeds and Sewage

The Eco cabins at CAT have their own reed bed systems which are used to treat sewage. Reed bed  sewage systems use a series of natural filtration systems to treat waste water. Discharging of raw wastewater has a negative impact on the environment such as eutrophication of receiving water bodies, pollution of groundwater and odor. What is more, wastewater contains pathogenic organisms which transmit disease to animals and human. For these reasons it is crucial to have an effective sewage management system and operate it in proper way. This is what our biology department does.

cabins1

Continue reading “Reedbeds and Sewage”

A comparison of two methods of mushrooms cultivation

Today I would like to talk more specifically about how we cultivate our mushrooms here at CAT. Currently, we are testing out 2 different methods so as to compare the results. One method uses straw or cardboard while the other method uses sawdust. In both cases, the straw/cardboard or sawdust must be pasteurised in order to clear them from micro-organisms so that the mushrooms can proliferate easily. This is done by putting them in boiling water for about 2 hours.

In the first method, the straw/cardboard is put in layers in a box with a small mycelium culture (i.e. spore culture), closed in a plastic bag and left in a hot room for about 2 weeks until it is completely colonised by mycelium. The straw is then put into a fruiting room, which is much colder. The cold shock that the mycelia undergo at this stage, make them start fruiting, i.e. growing into mushrooms. This process should take about 2 weeks as well.

dsc_0012

The second method uses sawdust, is easier but takes longer. In this case, the mycelium culture is put into the sawdust and in an incubator until the mycelium culture colonises the whole container. The saw dust is then taken out and packed into pre-drilled holes in logs that have been kept on the ground for 2 years (this is to replicate the natural decomposition process). The logs are then left for about 6 month and should, hopefully, grow oyster mushrooms.

dsc_0019