Glue Laminating at Grand Designs Live

This year CAT has been on bit of a promotional tour – travelling to London, Birmingham and London again to attend exhibitions, study fairs and conferences. Each event gave us the opportunity to talk to people about CAT’s work in the field of sustainability. From this coming Saturday however, CAT will be doing more than just talking.

We’re spending nine days camped out in the miniature village that is Grand Designs Live at the ExCel in London. Each day CAT will be providing demonstrations of glue laminating (or glulam) used to build the beautiful ‘wigloo’ you can see onsite in Wales. Jules, the carpenter who designed the toilet in association with Crafted Space, will be doing two demonstrations each day. As well as this, we have some examples of sustainable building techniques with us and the opportunity for people to ask CAT experts questions about their building woes.

Timber Arc Compost Toilet
The glue laminated compost toilet up at CAT

So what exactly is glue laminating?

It’s a process where several layers of timber are bonded together using a durable, moisture-resistant adhesive. The resulting structure can be used in both straight and curved configurations. The build that Jules undertaking requires curved lathes so he uses a ‘former’ to help hold the layers in place as the glue dries.

 

So why glue laminating?

Glue laminating has much lower embodied energy than reinforced concrete and steel, although of course it does entail more embodied energy than solid timber. However, the laminating process allows timber to be used for much longer spans, heavier loads, and complex shapes.

Glulam is two-thirds the weight of steel and one sixth the weight of concrete – the embodied energy to produce it is six times less than the same suitable strength of steel. Wood has a greater tensile strength relative to steel – two times on a strength-to-weight basis – and has a greater compressive resistance strength than concrete. The high strength and stiffness of laminated timbers enable glulam beams and arches to span large distances without intermediate columns, allowing more design flexibility than with traditional timber construction.

Glue Laminating
Jules clamping some glue laminated timber onto the former

We’ll be following the build live each day over on Facebook so have a look and see how it progresses!

If you like the look of the compost toilet, take a look at Jules’ website.

Grand Designs Live is open to the public from Saturday 4th to Sunday 12th May. More information can be found on their website.

 

CAT pioneers reunite for BBC Radio 4 broadcast as 40th anniversary approaches

 

Five early pioneers of the Centre for Alternative Technology were reunited on Sunday 28th April for BBC Radio 4’s The Reunion. Hosted by Sue MacGregor, The Reunion takes a weekly look at significant events and moments in history by reuniting the people who made them happen. Past programmes include the first years of Doctor Who, the 1948 Olympics, and the founders of Comic Relief.

On April 28th it was the Centre for Alternative Technology’s turn, as Sue brings together CAT’s first Technical Director Bob Todd, and his wife Liz, CAT’s first and second Directors Mark Mathews and Rod James, and Pembrokeshire builder Des Rees, who wanted to have an adventure in the Sahara, and found himself working in a damp slate quarry in mid-Wales instead! There will also be recordings of now-deceased founder Gerard Morgan-Grenville, leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt and long-term staff member Peter Harper, who first coined the term ‘alternative technology’.

In November 1973 CAT founder Gerard Morgan-Grenville signed a lease on a disused quarry owned by Old-Etonian school friend John Beaumont. On it he planned to build ‘The Village of the Future’. The National Centre for Alternative Technology was to be powered by renewable energy, fed with organic produce and run under co-operative principles.

The Centre defied conventional approaches to energy and food production, developed innovative technologies and spawned hundreds of like-minded projects and enterprises across the globe. The first ‘pioneers’ moved on-site in 1974, and CAT will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2014.

The Reunion will also use interviews collected via CAT’s Oral History Project, which was funded by GLASU and organised by Allan Shepherd.

“With CAT’s 40th anniversary coming up in 2014 we’ve been preparing an archive of written, oral and photographic stories about the Centre’s history, some of which will now feature in The Reunion,” explains Allan.

“The whole archive will be kept in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and will be launched as part of a series of events and activities we have planned for CAT’s 40th anniversary in 2014. The Centre has played a part in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, as well as making a big impact on environmental thinking. The Reunion recognises this, and the programme is a fitting tribute to CAT’s history.”

The Reunion is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 28th April at 11.15 and May 3rd at 9am, and is also available online.

Contact allan.shepherd@cat.org.uk for more information about the CAT Oral History Project, archive or 40th anniversary celebrations; and kim.bryan@cat.org.uk for CAT media enquiries.

BBC Radio 4 will also be bringing Any Questions to CAT on June 7th. Any Questions is a question and answer broadcast featuring a live studio audience and a panel of politicians from all major parties. It will be broadcast from the WISE building at CAT, and CAT will be looking for a live audience closer to the time. Contact kim.bryan@cat.org.uk for more information.

 

The top 5 renewable energy questions from the National Homebuilding and Renovating Show

If you went to the National Homebuilding and Renovating Show a week ago, you might have been inspired by the live demonstrations of thatching, or felt the sudden urge to redecorate when you passed the stall full of sheepskin rugs. Or perhaps you realised you really did need a 2-metre 3D TV in your lounge, or maybe you simply wanted to browse whilst enjoying an ice cream from the Yorkshire Dales food cart (it’s a permanent installation).

Nestled between two full-size timber frame houses, one of which was the Eco Home Theatre, the CAT stall was a small hub of renewable energy debate in this varied crowd. Enthused by Tobi’s daily talks, a stream of visitors made their way to us to ask often highly specific or technical questions. Some of the same concerns kept coming up, so we’ve collated a list of the five most common questions and Tobi’s answers.

Lots of people also asked us questions about architecture and design, but we’re going to save those for a later feature. Stay tuned!

  1. What’s PVT, and is it a good idea?
  2. Is there a case for thermodynamic systems?
  3. Are heat pumps right for me?
  4. Micro hydro: yes or no?
  5. Should I heat my house with biomass?

 

1. What’s PVT, and is it a good idea?

PVT is the combination of solar photovoltaic systems (the “PV”), which produce electricity, and solar thermal systems (the “T”, also known as solar water heating, SWH), which produce hot water.

In principle, you can see the potential for synergy between these technologies. PV modules convert only 10%-20% of the solar energy that falls onto them into electricity, and a good proportion of the remaining solar energy is converted into heat – solar PV get hot in the sun. So why not use this heat to heat water for showers? This is what PVT modules do – basically, they are solar PV modules put onto a solar thermal absorber. In principle, this is a brilliant idea. In practice, it’s not so easy.

Solar PV modules actually operate more efficiently when they are colder (because their electric resistance is lower) whereas for your showers you want your water to be hot. Under some conditions that works out perfectly – as long as your hot water cylinder is cold, the solar thermal part will actually cool your solar PV module down. But on a sunny summer’s day you ultimately want your solar thermal system to produce very hot water, and in fact UK legislation actually requires water to be heated to temperatures of 60-70C to kill dangerous Legionella bacteria. Ideally you’d want your solar panel to be colder than that.

You can get around this by using a heat pump to produce very hot shower water while pumping lower temperature water through your solar PVT panels. But that of course means additional expense – and much higher electricity consumption than the circulation pump of a normal solar thermal system. Also, it is worth pointing out that most PVT systems on the market today actually cost more than the combined cost of a conventional PV system and some solar thermal panels.

The Upshot: If you have enough roof space you’re probably better off installing separate solar PV and solar thermal systems.

2. Is there a case for thermodynamic systems? So-called “thermodynamic” systems (a fancy term that doesn’t really mean much) are essentially simple (unglazed) solar thermal panels connected to a heat pump. They haven’t been on the market for long enough for us to have good data, but there’s reason to be very sceptical. In the UK there simply isn’t much solar energy available in winter because days are short and the sun is low down and very often hidden behind clouds altogether.

Under those conditions, a “thermodynamic” system is essentially an air-source heat pump (ASHP) that relies on heat transfer from the ambient air to the solar panel. Manufacturers claim that the system will provide hot water at every time of the year – and that is probably true, but during dark winter days this energy is not solar energy but rather energy produced by a heat pump, which consumes a lot of electricity.

Furthermore, because the “thermodynamic” panels usually use a type of solar panel that’s less efficient than a normal (glazed) solar thermal panel, they’re probably also not a good choice during the sunnier parts of the year when a normal solar thermal system can produce hot water at a much lower electricity cost.

The Upshot: A large dose of scepticism is currently warranted when it comes to these systems. This is also reflected by the fact that their accreditation under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) has been suspended, which means you won’t get Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) income.

3. Are heat pumps right for me? The answer is “it depends”. Heat pumps use electricity to extract ambient heat (heat in the air or ground) and supply that heat into your house. Today most electricity is produced very inefficiently – for instance, our coal and gas power stations consume two or three units of fossil fuel heat energy for every unit of electricity they produce. If electricity from these inefficient power stations is used to run heat pumps, then these heat pumps need to be very efficient. Basically, your heat pump would need to supply three units of heat for every unit of electricity it consumed, otherwise you might be better off heating directly with oil or gas!

To work efficiently, heat pumps need to run at a relatively constant rate supplying heat at low temperatures. This is a realistic option for a (usually new-built) house that is well insulated and has underfloor heating with densely spaced pipes. In this case even when it is very cold outside the water in the heating system need only be lukewarm (maybe 30-35C). On the other hand, if the heat pump needs to supply much hotter water, for a badly insulated building or a building heated by radiators, then the efficiency of the heat pump will likely be too low to make it a good choice.

4. Micro hydro: yes or no? Hydropower is great, and if it benefits a whole community rather than one individual then all the better! Unfortunately, only a minority of communities in the UK have the kind of site that’s suitable for hydropower: A stream with a large flow rate of water and a good height drop. If you have a site of this type then it’s definitely worth exploring the option of installing a micro-hydro scheme.

5. Should I heat my house with biomass? Biomass can be a good choice, especially where wood can be sourced locally and/or for buildings where heat pumps would not work at high efficiency. But it’s important to stress that wood fuel is a limited resource and that there are potentially negative side effects to burning it (e.g. local air pollution from smoke, time lag between when CO2 is emitted and when a new growing tree absorbs it again). This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t burn wood, but it means we should try to use it as efficiently as possible. This means always reducing a building’s energy consumption first, and using the most efficient appliances available for burning wood. For example, modern log batch boilers (wood gasification boilers) get more heat out of the same amount of wood, and emit less smoke, than traditional wood stoves (or, even worse, open fires!).

Have a question about renewables and your home that we didn’t answer here? Check out our Home Energy Handbook, or give our Free Information Service a call!

 

Three of a Kind: Two Missions: One School of Architecture: CAT

 

The Centre for Alternative Technology is delighted to be displaying work from three of its Professional Diploma in Architecture students at the first ever Wales Festival of Architecture.

Running six weeks long from 23rd March to 4th May, Aberystwyth Arts Centre is playing host to the to the new festival. Organisers aim to stimulate discussion about architecture, providing an opportunity to demonstrate and discuss the wide range of economic, social and environmental benefits that well-designed buildings can bring to a community. The Festival will provide a forum for architects, planners and other professionals and the public to share views and knowledge about the built environment.

The exhibition of CAT work entitled ‘Three of a kind, two missions, one school of architecture: CAT.’ is on display in the main foyer of Aberystwyth Arts Centre and features work from three of CAT’s students as well as a sample from this year’s diploma show.The exhibition showcases the innovative and dynamic forms of teaching post-graduate Architecture students that CAT uses which is unique in the UK.

The professional diploma course at CAT places an emphasis on sustainability and encourages students to explore the themes of transition and the vital role the building design plays in environmental impact. There is a huge potential within the architecture profession for environmental change and this is pivotal to the entire sustainability debate. This is a time of great debate about the future of architectural education in the UK where many want to see architecture get out of its bunker mentality; they want it to rethink the relationship between practice and education, and to embrace the challenge of  radical climate change by reconsidering the level of design intervention and thus resource use in any given situation. The Professional Diploma course at CAT is addressing these issues and is about to embark on a whole new chapter of its experimentation,” said Patrick Hannay, Tutor, Professional Diploma in Architecture.

” What is remarkable is how many students domiciled in Wales are forced to go out of Wales for their architectural education because places are limited in in the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff. Wales urgently needs that talent to return, and thus coming back for their post-grad learning to the very heart of Wales at Machynlleth  on such a unique learning experience, in such a fine environment, would ensure that the best of talent would remain in the service of Wales.”

The Centre for Alternative Technology has won a number of awards for its building the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education including the Dewi-Prys TomosThomas Prize and the RIBA Awardsshortlist. For the last 40 years the organisation has been at the forefront of radical ecological experimentation and building design.

The Wales Festival of Architecture will open on the 23rd of March and will be opened by Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas.The launch is a free event, starting at 6pm in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre cinema.

To arrange interviews with any students or staff of CAT please use the following contact.

  Patrick Hannay  077960 65764
  patrick.hannay@cat.org.uk

 

Cwrdd yn y Canol/Meet in the Middle

 

[Scroll down for English]

Lleoliad cynadledda cynaliadwy yng nghalon Canolbarth Cymru

Mae WISE yn ganolfan sydd wedi ennill gwobrau lawer, ac mae yma gyfleusterau modern, trawiadol, a chynaliadwy ar gyfer cynnal cynadleddau, cyfarfodydd, sesiynau hyfforddi a digwyddiadau unigol. Mae’r lleoliad yn nyffryn hardd Dulas yng nghanolbarth Cymru ac yn hawdd cyrraedd ato ar hyd y ffordd fawr ynghyd â gwasanaethau trên rheolaidd i Fachynlleth gerllaw.

Mae WISE yn cynnig profiad cynadledda unigryw, lleoliad gyda theatr ddarlithio o 200 sedd wedi’i wneud o ddaear gywasgedig. Mae nifer o stafelloedd llai ar gyfer grwpiau o wahanol faint a digwyddiadau llai. Mae WISE hefyd yn cynnig llety en suite ar gyfer hyd at 48 o bobl a gwasanaeth arlwyo hyd at 200 o bobl.

Mae WISE wedi’i leoli ar safle canolfan eco fwya blaenllaw Ewrop, sef y Ganolfan Dechnoleg Amgen sy’n defnyddio pŵer trydan adnewyddol. Mae WISE yn rhoi naws gwahanol i ddigwyddiadau.Rydyn ni ar hyn o bryd yn cynnig gostyngiad o 20% ar bob archeb tan ddiwedd Ebrill. Os gwelwch yn dda, a wnewch chi gyfeirio at yr hysbyseb hwn wrth ymateb?The WISE building

Cysylltwch â Sarah ar 01654  704973 neu e-bostiwch venue.hire@cat.org.uk
www.cat.org.uk/venuehire

Meet in the Middle
Sustainable conference venue in the heart of Mid- Wales

WISE is an award winning venue, with impressive, modern and sustainable facilities for successful conferences, meetings, training sessions and one-off events. Nestled in the stunning Dulas valley in mid-Wales and easily accessible by road, with regular rail services to nearby Machynlleth, WISE offers a unique conference experience. The venue features a 200 seat rammed earth lecture theatre and a number of smaller rooms that can cater for different size groups and smaller events. WISE also offers en suite accommodation  for up to 48 delegates  and catering facilities for up to  200  delegates.

Situtated at the site of Europe’s leading eco centre, the Centre for Alternative Technology and powered by renewable electricity,  WISE inspires events with a difference.

We are now offering a 20% discount on all bookings until the end of April. Please mention this email when responding.

Please contact Sarah on 01654  704973 or email venue.hire@cat.org.uk
www.cat.org.uk/venuehire

Sail away in a traditional Welsh coracle

A new 2 day course at CAT from the 6th-7th of April will enable participants to build their very own coracle, the course covers everything from weaving the willow structure to applying the outer waterproof layer and exploring the role of the coracle in Welsh society.  Ideal for anyone who wants to learn how to make a coracle and does not require previous knowledge of working with willow.
Since pre Roman times, the Coracle has been used by humans for fishing and transporting humans and goods. Coracles can be found throughout the world, from the India, Vietnam and Tibet, to Norway, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, where they can be seen in use in three west Wales river, The Teifi, The Towy and The Taf.

An important aspect to the Welsh Coracle is that it can be carried on by just one person, hence the Welsh saying . ‘Llwyth dyn ei gorwgl’ — the load of a man is his coracle.

In Wales there are several different types of coracle, tailored to the river condition and its intended use. Oval in shape, the structure is made of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods, tied with willow bark. The outer layer was originally an animal skin such as horse hide, with a thin layer of tar to make it fully water proof – today replaced by tarred calico or canvas or simply fibreglass.

Each coracle is unique in design, The Teifi coracle, for instance, is flat bottomed, as it is designed to negotiate shallow rapids, common on the river in the summer, while the Carmarthen coracle is rounder and deeper, because it is used in tidal waters on the Tywi, where there are no rapids. Teifi coracles use no nails, relying on the interweaving of the lats for structural coherence, whilst the Carmarthen ones use copper nails and no interweaving.

Coracles are effective fishing vehicles as they hardly disturb the water or the fish and can easily be manoeuvred with one arm whilst the other tends the fishing net. The coracle is propelled by means of a broad-bladed paddle used towards the front of the coracle,pulling the boat forward, with the paddler facing in the direction of travel.



For press enquiries and photos please contact kim.bryan@cat.org.uk/ 01654 705 957

For further information on the coracle making course at CAT please contact courses@cat.org.uk 01654 704 952 or look at our webpage

20% off WISE venue hire

 

The Wales Institute for Sustainable Education at CAT makes a fantastic choice of venue for meetings, gatherings, seminars, conferences, weddings and even 40th birthday parties. The range of facilities from the 200-seat lecture theatre, workshop spaces, smaller class rooms,  restaurant and bar area make it an ideal venue for both large and small groups of people.

The award winning WISE building is nestled in the Dyfi valley and surrounded by spectacular scenery.  The building has been constructed using low impact materials such as rammed earth, hemp and lime and locally sourced wood.  It recently won the Dewi Tomos award and has been short listed for a RIBA award in 2011.

CAT is currently offering 20% off discounts on all bookings for the month of April.

For more information please contact Sarah on 01654 704973 or email venue.hire@cat.org.uk

 

 

Energy democracy through open source technology

 

“The beauty of open source technologies and processes is that we can all get involved in developing the idea, whether that be as a geeky developer hacking new code or as a householder testing out kit.” Jonathan Atkinson, Carbon Co-op, Manchester.

A new course at the Centre for Alternative Technology from 25th – 28th of March will be doing just that. The course will include energy monitoring theory and system design from householder to micro-grid scale. The course is taught by Carlos Alonso Gabizon, Trystan Lea, Sunil Tagore and Glyn Hudson who have developed and devised the hardware and software from the openenergymonitor.org project.

OpenEnergyMonitor is a project to develop open-source energy monitoring tools to help us relate to our use of energy, our energy systems and the challenge of sustainable energy.

The future of energy production in the UK depends a great deal on who owns and controls the means of production. There is a choice to be made, between big corporations prioritising profit making and community owned schemes. Climate change, rising energy prices, economic instability and dwindling social cohesion are some of the challenges the world faces over the coming decades. Across the UK and around the world, people are coming together with their neighbours and showing that, with a bit of dedication and community spirit, it’s possible for ordinary people to make real progress on a whole range of big issues- including taking control of their energy usage and production.

Energy democracy means making our energy solutions more open, it brings everybody together in planning, deciding and implementing local and renewable energy. For energy democracy to work open source technologies are vital. Open source takes the control away from large companies and places it in the hands of the people. It stimulates local economies and small scale manufacturing, making technologies accessible to all.

There are a wide range of open source projects, from software such as Mozilla, operating systems such as Android and Linux, hard ware such as Arduino, even some types of beer. There is also an increasing number of inspiring open source energy projects such as Onawi, an organisation that aims to make designs of wind turbines freely available and River Simple who have made their design for hydrogen cars open source.

The open source energy monitoring project is another example. Currently the Big six energy companies are supplying ‘free’ energy monitors to homes. Whilst this is a good thing as it encourages people to become more aware of their energy usage, there is a darker flip side, as Jonathan Atkinson states in his article about open source energy monitoring,

“ For now, big technology companies such as Cisco, Siemens and IBM are involved in a kind of ‘data grab’. They’re aggressively pushing their kit and software, distributing free equipment and incentives to make sure their technology sets the data standard for the smart meters. As with other sectors, the ability to control, manage and sell data is extremely lucrative. The virtual data commons we own and generate are being commodified and stolen.”

This is a complete contrast to open-source monitoring hardware and software that empowers the user to be in full control of when, how and where energy data is logged.

The Carbon Co-op , a co-operative based in Greater Manchester, aims to help members make radical reductions in household power through the installation of energy-saving measures such as external wall insulation or solar panels.

They had been grappling with how to empower members through a better understanding of energy use. Rather than collaborate with one of the big technology companies, they have entered into a partnership with Open Source Energy Monitors.

The open source energy monitor project has been set up by a group who describe themselves as an “active open research community of energy enthusiasts, engineers, programmers and makers pushing open source energy monitoring forward.” They have devised and developed an open source energy monitor that can be assembled and built at home. Using open source technology such as the Rasperry Pi micro computer and Arduino programming language the monitors are flexible, modular and robust and can collect data from a variety of sensors from electricity usage to gas, humidity, temperature and even carbon dioxide (an indicator of air flow and therefore of the draughtiness of a house).”

The OpenEnergyMonitor project are running the first course of its kind at the Centre for Alternative Technology from the 25th to the 28th of March. The course will include

Energy monitoring theory and system design.

● Electronics PCB assembly, soldering

● Arduino firmware

● Web application programming

● Using digital fabrication tools (reprap) Digital objects to physical objects

● 3D CAD programs, and tools chains for controlling an open source 3D printer

● Sensors: CT current, temperature, wind, electricity.. In the evening there will be discussions with facilitation

● Workshop: “What do we value? What are our aims? How does this relate to different ‘systems of production? and the role that open source plays.”

● Workshop: “limits of the technology in the environmental, social and economic aspects”

For more information on the course follow this link.

What are they doing now? We catch up with former students

As part of a new series of blogs we will be talking to some of our former students about what they are  doing now. This week Mauritz Lindeque tells us about how his thesis in MSc in Architecture and Advanced, Environmental and Energy studies has influenced his career.

I was a Distance learning student on the MSc AEES program. I was living in Tanzania at the time that I started on the program. The job and responsibilities that I had while in Tanzania was as a  development manager for a hunting company. We managed 9 Mill Acres of land in very remote parts of Tanzania where all of our 16 camps were off-grid and had to be self sustaining. I started the MSc program to learn more about green and sustainable development as operating with these principles reduces the demand for resources that is very expensive to transport in remote areas of Africa.


Half way through my third second year on the program I returned to South Africa to complete my Thesis. The topic was in Renewable Energy in particular Bio gas from anaerobic digestion (AD). I was employed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) South Africa, to design build and operate an automated AD. This I completed and am now employed to commercialize the patented system. The CSIR is the National Research institute that is also the largest scientific research institute on the continent of Africa.
We are now using the pilot plant as a research platform to test site specific sludge to establish the energy potential of that sludge for different clients ranging from agricultural to municipal waste to energy projects.
The waste to energy concept from municipal waste is growing in SA and we are now in the process of developing a laboratory to test mechanical or biological interventions for different sludge types that may increase the gas yield of such projects. This is to the benefit of South Africa as we have 343 Municipal waste water plants that use ADs.  This was all started from that thesis for the MSc project and the development of the pilot scale automated AD.