Imagining a climate resilient community

Anna Cooke-Yarborough reports on the latest part of the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course, which included sessions on permaculture with Chris Dixon and Ruth Stevenson, Values with Elena Blackmore (Common Cause) and Sustainable Architecture Practice with Sunand Prasad (ex president of RIBA).

The second part of the first module was ‘Context and Planning’ and our task for the week was to envisage a climate resilient community on the land around Castell y Bere. This is a castle initially constructed in the 12th century and now lies ruined, situated on a hill near Llanfihangel-y-pennant in Gwynedd, Wales.

Planning a climate resilient community
Planning a climate resilient community

We were divided into two groups and headed off to explore the location using Castell y Bere as a viewpoint. All the land we could see from the castle site was available to work with. The use of the natural drainage divide, marked by the peaks of the hills around, felt very appropriate as one of our aspirations was to make the area ecosystem enhancing. Understanding the precipitation and drainage of the land were key to improving the environment for all the organisms dwelling there. To give time to develop an individual view we approached in silence and came together once everyone had had enough time to consider the space alone. As a collective project this quiet time proved important, the group work that followed was full of highs and lows, concentrated, a little frayed, but most of all a great learning experience.

student exerise
Personal reflection was the starting point for the exercise

We were expected to provide for a population of 500, be fossil free within 10 years, increase resilience, be waste free, carbon sequestering and ecosystem enhancing, and to promote non-growth trading. With so much to research in a short time-scale both groups divided into sub-groups to explore the important areas of this imaginary community in more detail. These were decided as water and food, shelter and energy, health and wellbeing along with governance, transport and communication. The interdependence of all these aspects was clear from the start and so frequent sharing of discoveries and ideas was key. The realisation of the extent of flooding experienced in the area was an important turning point in much of our thinking, and this had to be considered alongside the likelihood of longer dry spells as well.

Discussing climate change adaptation and flooding
Discussing climate change adaptation and flooding

Spider diagrams, timelines, playdough figures, poems, acting, long discussions, longer debates and many maps all ensued. One thing was clear from the start – this was going to be a challenging week.

The Architecture Practice Lecture given by Sunand Prasad was full of ideas we could take forward and use in our community design. He made mention of ending reliance on fossil fuels, the importance of flexibility and symbiosis along with the idea of leaving no trace. Something I found particularly useful was the notion that buildings cannot be finished, that they need to be constantly tuned.

One of the key things we were able to look into throughout the week was Permaculture design, with lectures from Ruth Stevenson and Chris Dixon. The importance of cycles, appropriate zoning and working with natural systems in Permaculture design became clear, along with the versatility of the ideas involved, which can be attributed to all aspects of life. The emphasis on rediscovery and understanding traditional systems were particularly interesting. There is so often an emphasis on the development of new ideas, when many important possibilities are either hidden or forgotten.

Elena Blackmore from Common Cause came to give us a lecture and workshop on values. It was interesting to see how many of our values as a group were similar, which was probably related to the decision we took to take the course, whilst even in this niche setting some values were very contrasting in terms of how important we deemed them to be. Often perceived as something abstract it was good to learn more about values, including how they can be changed and how they affect responses to global issues. In terms of planning our communities it was useful to establish as groups the most focal values, using these to help guide some decision-making.

student working
‘Valley Republic’ working group

After a lot of table moving, information sharing and weaving together of ideas it was finally time to clamp down and get a presentation together. Both groups were secretive in their final plans, so the last hours were tense and exciting.

Republic of Naz told the tale of their community in the setting of “Memory Tavern”, making use of drama. It was an extremely funny, clever and playful display of the development of the community, complete with a special effects transport display! The Valley Republic similarly took the view to look back over the growth of their community, this time at a celebratory festival. They put together a presentation with Bardic linking to the different sections, complete with a beating drum. The community were caught out on their desire to be pirates with the inclusion of a large, wooden boat in their master plan.

cycling presentation
The Power of cycling – lively presentation by ‘Naz’ working group

So the group work phase came to an end. All of us had learnt a great deal and it was a little sad leaving behind all our plans. There are whispers in the air though.

It was time to celebrate the end of a long week again and Friday night made way for a Halloween party. There was a lot of face painting, a murder mystery game underway in the straw bale theatre, music and dancing, with thanks to the super organisation by Kirsty Cassels, Josh Shimmin and James Irvine.

Halloween face painting
Face painting for Halloween party

On Saturday we had the opportunity of a lecture and workshop from Anna Beswick, who works for Adaptation Scotland. Having had a week working largely outside of real-world scenarios this was a valuable and positive insight into the difficulties faced along with possibilities and examples of adaptation across the UK, with the importance of dialogue, community involvement and working across regions made clear.

At lunch we headed our separate ways again, our heads full of ideas and thankful to everyone that made it such an enjoyable week. We all went away a great deal more knowledgeable about the challenges and opportunities surrounding community planning.

To find out more about this course and others, come to CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment open day on November 16th

MSc Students visit ancient ruin of Castell y Bere with ideas to build a Utopian Community

Susannah Trevelyan, who is volunteering in CAT’s media and marketing department, joins MSc students on an Adaptation Planning exercise in Castell y Bere.

Adaptation planning

Today I was lucky enough to be allowed a sneak preview into the  MSc Sustainability and Adaptation’s field trip to Castell y Bere, an ancient ruin of a 12th century castle that clings to a rocky out crop in the beautiful hills above Cardigan Bay. We had been split into two groups and given a brief earlier in the morning at the WISE centre; it was our job to design a utopian climate resilient community, that within 10 years would, amongst other things support a community of 500 and be carbon neutral. Given the positions of leaders of this new community it was our job to organise food security, energy security, communication networks, clean water and sanitation, fuel, and a political and trading system. Everything a community needs would have to be worked out and presented in a proposal by the end of the week. This was a chance to share knowledge and to discuss what we would really use to  build the foundations of the future.

Future Leaders? MSc students gather to kickstart their adaptation and sustainability planning project at Castell y Bere.
The MSc students gather as leaders of a new utopian society.
The rain held off for us as we approached the ruins at Castell y Bere.
The MCs students are asked to arrive on site in silence, so as to enable a clarity and personal approach to the sustainability and adaptation exercise.
Sustainability and adaptation planning in action with the sun shining on the MSc fieldtrip at Castell y Bere.
Lecturer Louise Halestrap gives us a few directions in terms of what we need to consider when prioritising our group adaptation and sustainability exercise.

In order to make this practical possible it was important that we make some assumptions about the project and its context, the following of which were given to us…

  • We must support a population of 500 people
  • We can use any land we can see
  •  We must increase the sites resilience against climate change
  •  We must be fossil free within 10 years
  •  We must be waste free
  •  We must be carbon sequestering
  •  We must be ecosystem enhancing
  •  We must develop non-growth trading

We organised ourselves according to areas of expertise and interest, and I ended up in the Health and Wellbeing group. Having worked in the arts, particularly within mental health I was acutely aware of the important role health and wellbeing could play in our utopian society, and was excited to be able to engage with the crossovers it had with other aspects of living. Maybe we could develop a preventative medicinal approach to health, with a nutritious diet and a medicinal garden? Maybe we could develop community through the farming, along with celebrations and festivities in accordance with the seasons…

On top of the world ! MSc students survey the surrounding landscape on their field trip at Castell y Bere.
On top of the world ! MSc students survey the surrounding landscape on their field trip at Castell y Bere.

Under the strict supervision of our kind course leader we arrived on site in silence, allowing all of us to naturally conceive of a vision on site. After half an hour we erupted into chatter and started to tackle some of the most pressing issues in our future community. Where would we get clean water from? Where would we live and what would we eat? These were just a few of the most pressing issues we needed to agree on before lunch, never mind the education and health system.

MSc Students on a fieldtrip at Castell y Bere.
MSc Students, team naz, getting their heads together to discuss the main concerns of this budding utopian community.

It soon became apparent that setting up a new utopian community wasn’t as simple as it sounds, with a multitude of complex issues needing investigation before we could move confidently on. To make the most of our time we decided to list all the potential resources the site offered and, then continued shaping the broader issues at hand.

Recording the natural resources available to use was an important part of the day.
Natural resources in the ruins surrounding Castell y Bere include a small meandering river, and pasture land, which maybe is in risk of flooding considering climate change?


MSc Field trip to the ruins at Castell y Bere.
Ancient oaks cover the steep slopes leading up the ruins at Castell y Bere . Maybe this would be a useful resource for our new utopian community.

What should we do with the ruins themselves? To put in perspective the heritage of the site, the history tells a tale not unlike that of Game of Thrones; The site of dramatic wars with the English, where the Welsh king Llywelyn the Great held his authority over the Welsh. In 1221 Llywelyn took control of neighbouring Meirionnydd from his son, Gruffydd; Llywelyn had previously placed Gruffydd in power there, but the father and son had fallen out. The prince then began to build the castle of Castell y Bere with the intent of controlling the local population and securing his new south-west border, which included the mountain trade routes between Gwynedd, Powys Wenwynwyn and Deheubarth. Castell y Bere was the first of several stone castles built by Llywelyn and the initial castle consisted of several towers positioned around a courtyard, situated on a rocky hillock in the Dysynni Valley near Cadair Idris. 

Maybe we should just forget the past, as some of the group suggested, deconstruct the castle and reuse the stones for our new buildings? A fierce debate ensued, with a multitude of ideas for the castle ruins thrown into the air.

To be able to take all these complex and relevant issues into account in our plans certainly gave us food for thought, and it was there i left the group to develop plans of their own. The sun  had shone down on us  making this a very enjoyable day, jam packed with juice discussion. I’m sure that by the end of the week, the MSc students will have fallen out and made up a million times, be a bit battered around the edges,  but also be a bit more knowledgable about exactly what it takes to plan for the requirements of future generations.

Come to our open day on 16th November to find out more about the masters degrees in Sustainability and Adaptation, Renewable Energy, Planning and the Built Environment. 

 Susannah Trevelyan

Media and Marketing Volunteer CAT.




New heads of education

CAT is delighted to welcome Jane Fisher and Tom Barker to the new post of Head of Education in a job share role. The role will involve development of new business opportunities in education and strategic oversight and support for our educational departments.

jane fisher

Jane and Tom will be taking up their post on 14th October. Jane has worked as a lecturer and BSc programme leader in ecology and conservation and has substantial experience as a research ecologist in addition to her voluntary work for environmental campaigning groups. Tom is currently a lecturer on CAT’s MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation and will continue with some of his hours in this role. He previously worked as a lecturer and researcher for Liverpool University and brings significant research experience including in the field of ecology and economics. Tom is a long-term supporter of CAT and worked as our membership co-ordinator in the early 1990s.

Jane and Tom have worked closely together in academic research over a number of years. Mick Taylor, Chair of Trustees, said: “I’m really pleased to appoint Tom and Jane as Head of Education. They bring a real commitment to CAT’s ethos and a strong track record in teaching, research and educational development. I know that their skills, experience and collaborative working style will enable them to bring strong leadership to our vital educational work at CAT.”



Transition People, Transformation People

environmental student
Sustainability degree
Students (Photo: Anna Cooke-Yarborough)

Helen Kennedy, a student on CAT’s new MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation masters course reflects on her experience of the first module.

A fortnight ago, I was preparing for my first week away, holidays discounted, for many years. I’ve been 22 years out of my own academia, and 22 years in the world of education as a teacher. Certainly, my career involved the odd training day, but as educational policy changed, so did the nature of these training days, and what had started out as my choice of training in areas which interested me and influenced my individual style slowly but surely became training in managing policy change and accommodating the latest dogma. I felt the real world was getting lost somewhere. Moreover this Real World was something I was becoming increasingly concerned about. So, it was with a huge amount of excitement that I packed my bags in readiness for something I really want to be involved in; something which will influence and educate me massively and hopefully as a product, influence others too.

I was not disappointed. Amongst the aims of this first module, it is stated that whilst getting an overview of the implications of transformational adaptation for social structures, land use, energy provision, economics and governance and its impact on the environment, we should also appreciate the interconnectedness of these things. As the week’s lectures progressed, this became increasingly apparent and it was interesting to hear about sustainability and adaptation from such diverse angles.

Student project
Bird hide (Photo: John Butler)

Each and every one of us took something important away from the many lectures and seminars, and for me, every lecture prompted the recall of the sort of things my partner and I would discuss over breakfast, and left me feeling that maybe I could make some sort of difference.

Adam Tyler’s “Energy Now” brought home perfectly just how big the gap is between the energy we use every twenty-four hours , and how much we could physically make ourselves in that same twenty-four hours, (41 days of cycling being equivalent to one day’s energy use).

Cath Hassell’s lecture on Water Security changed completely the way I think about expanses of lush green lawns in Spring and Summer, in terms of the water needed to maintain them, and the discussion regarding bottled water consumption brought to mind an article I had read about the terrifying “gyres” of plastic bottles floating in the middle of the world’s oceans.

The three lectures given by Tom Barker, Environmental Change, Biodiversity Changes and Ecosystem Functions were for me a brilliant introduction to a huge and complicated subject, and underlined how even gradual changes in complex systems can have far-reaching consequences. The phrases that stay with me are “keystone species”, “Snowball Earth” and “tipping points”. These lectures particularly affected myself and others in quite an emotional way, and I think it’s fair to say that we all came away feeling a sense of urgency, a purpose.

Lectures about Politics, Economy and Sustainability prompted discussions about what alternative models might look like, and a consideration of their advantages and drawbacks. The notion of negative interest is one example of a few concepts which have never occurred to me, and despite thinking that these might be dry areas for me, I have become excited to find out more.

fantastic location
University in the mountains (Photo: Helen Kennedy)

Lectures given by Bryce Gilroy-Scott and Tim Coleridge on Sustainable Cities and the Built Environment, coupled with Adam Tyler’s reprise to talk about Energy Futures were a positive force in strengthening our belief that change is not only possible, but that there are also a plethora of ways in which it might be accomplished. The challenge of designing well, from the outset, from the inside-out; in choosing suitable and adequate energy supplies, using materials innovatively and considering how settlements are organic and might successfully operate increasingly as a more closed cycle, is an exciting one.

This was a very full week, where time was most definitely not linear, and friendships were forged, through discussion, group work, room-sharing, over mealtimes, drinks and dancing. That this took place, and will continue to take place in such a special setting, surrounded by four decades of experimentation which has seen sustainability move from the fringes into the mainstream, made it even better. The Scottish Referendum was an inevitable backdrop for the week, and in spite of the result, the Friday night Ceilidh celebration was a wonderful and rather sweaty (for me!) end to the week’s events, organised brilliantly by Kirsty Cassels and the musicians Geoff, Matt and Roddy. I reckon they only did it to avoid the half hour long dances that left my face looking like a beetroot.

I came to this course as an introvert, and that is something that will not change. Snatched moments in the morning were precious, and found me mostly mountain-gazing into the morning mist, watching goldfinches and listening to their bell-like tinkling, finding the cherry tomatoes in the poly-tunnel and just eating one, and wondering in the stillness of the morning at the one beech tree that shook its leaves whilst the others remained motionless. Yes, it was a real challenge for me to meet so many new people all at once, to share a room, to speak out and to survive such an intense time of immersion with so little time for contemplation. What made it possible was the quality of the people – the MSc students from such diverse backgrounds, the Architecture students who put on such a stunning exhibition of their work for us and studied alongside us, the course leaders, my patient and very lovely room-mate.

The people who arrived nervously at the beginning of the week were not quite the same people who left the following Saturday. We are arming ourselves with knowledge that will empower us and others. We are changing. We are people in transition; Transformation People.

By Helen Kennedy

Also read Helen’s blog about her open day experience at CAT.

Student life
Friday night knees up (Photo: John Butler)


Starting an MSc is a life-changing decision

By Helen Kennedy, who just got back from CAT’s postgraduate open weekend where she came to find out about our new MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course. 

Helen Kennedy at Treffyn
Helen Kennedy at Treffyn

Having 22 years’ teaching experience, and not liking the way things have been going for some years, I decided to try somehow to make a difference both to my life and possibly the lives of many others by taking more practical skills and thinking back into the classroom. But how to do it? Budgets are tight and present government educational climate wrong to try to do it from the inside, so, having long been interested in the world of renewable energy, sustainable building methods and permaculture design, I have decided to get trained up and qualified, and try to deliver what I feel is crucial stuff back into the world of primary and secondary education from the outside.

And so I began to look into the possibilities. It didn’t take long to realize that the courses available at CAT offer something you cannot get anywhere else, in terms of the wealth of knowledge concentrated there, the immersive environment, the “what you see around you everywhere reflects what you learn” whole ethos of the site itself, the great reputation of CAT and its long-standing history. I visited CAT as an enthusiastic 7 year old, and remember the revolutionary half-flushing toilets and hand-made wind turbine. From tiny acorns, as the saying goes.

I arrived on Saturday morning feeling excited but rather apprehensive about the weekend, and as the funicular carriage heaved me up the steep slope, it was difficult not to feel seven again, with my weekend’s belongings stuffed in a bag and a thousand questions stuffed in my head.

The gathering of people in front of the WISE building reflected the sheer diversity of those interested and driven to make whatever differences they can to tackle the environmental changes happening to the world, and to learn more about it, or to pass on their expertise, and I was immediately made to feel welcome, and taken on an impromptu tour of some of the work undertaken by students during a week of trying out different wall building and rendering techniques, including home-made lime putty, pizza ovens and a potential sauna. CAT students obviously know how to have fun 😉

CAT students making lime putty last week

The weekend formally began with an introduction to CAT from Tim Coleridge, followed by a lecture about climate change and adaptation delivered at lightning speed by Ranyl Rhydwen, who could get his message across to a sack of spuds, so lively is his style and passionate is his conviction. Catching our breath (!) we were whisked off on tours of some of the AEES [course to be replaced by Sustainability and Adaptation in September] students’ projects, and very industrious stuff it is too. From investigations into the properties of different mixes of hemp shives and lime, to exterior render experiments, some even including flour in the mix, and various different building projects underway, it was all very interesting. Brain overload was avoided by discussing also the social side of things; the starlit sauna up the steep slope behind the WISE building, or a, dare I say it, drinking den down the Magical Mole Hole!

Following a well-earned break, an exemplification of course modules and a Q&A session we went off to find our rooms. The first thing to hit me was the aroma of wood oil, and then the sliding door onto the decking area with daisies and a PV array, courtesy of this year’s REBE students. I could have stayed in there for the rest of the evening, except for the promise of pizza baked in a clay oven, a cool cider, some great company and an unexpected stomp up the slope to see the site from the wind turbines and to get eaten alive by midges as the sun sank behind some lenticular clouds.

Cooking pizza on Saturday night

A peaceful sleep, a renewable shower and a vegetarian CAT-special breakfast later, we were all gathered to listen to Tobi Kellner’s Zero Carbon Britain lecture. This was possibly one of the most powerful 40 minutes I have ever experienced, and one with a hugely positive message. I have since returning home, downloaded the pdf file of this lecture with its brilliantly clear and user-friendly info-graphics.

I had to leave early, to see if my wild-camping partner and dog had made it to Aberdovey in the heat of the weekend (which they had), but my head was left buzzing with all the activities and messages I had seen and heard, and the fabulous folk I met, and hope to meet again, as a student. Fingers crossed.

If you missed the open weekend but are interested in the MSc courses offered at CAT visit the Graduate School of the Environment webpages or contact us.

Distance Learning Blog: Architecture and Adaptation in Pakistan

CAT’s reputation for postgraduate study is known the world over. We offer a distance learning option for students keen to study on CAT’s Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies MSc. One of our current students, Suraiya, talks about her motivations for studying on this life-changing course.


I am a distance learning full-time student at CAT, studying for the MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course.

I started this course in September 2012 and have completed the first year while living in Pakistan. However, just recently we have relocated to Manila, Philippines, so I shall now be working on my thesis from here.

I graduated from a university in Karachi, Pakistan, with a BSc (honors) degree in Architecture, in 2001. From then on, till recently (just before the relocation) I have been a practising architect, specializing in residential design. I have also taught architectural design for 3 years, part-time at the bachelors level.

Throughout the course of my career, while working and teaching in a developing country, my architectural practice started to seem very superficial. I seemed to be living and designing for a community that lived in a bubble and thus their housing requirements did not address the realities of today’s world. The grave realities of resource depletion, climate change and the need to work as a team to bring about not only change, but also learning to adapt and deal with the natural disasters that frequent increasingly.

In 2010, according to the government statistics, approximately 20 millions people were affected by floods that resulted from heavy monsoon rains all over Pakistan. Leading to the loss of lives, livelihoods and destruction of homes. Since then this has become a recurring yearly natural disaster in Pakistan.

Realities such as these made me recognise that I now needed to channel my energies and design to positively contribute towards something more meaningful and impactful.

The AEES course has not only introduced me to the present day issues and concerns that the world faces, but it has also equipped me with the technical knowledge which I can now use to achieve successful, sustainable designs.

To find out more about our MSc in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies please visit our website. Applications are now open for the March and September intakes.

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Gaining a Global Perspective – Studying for a Masters by Distance Learning

A lot of CAT’s work in the past has focused on local and community-based work for sustainable living and renewable energy. Climate change, however, is an international problem and CAT’s research has attracted global interest. As well as being able to study for an MSc in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies (AEES) at CAT, the course can also be studied remotely. This means that students around the world can learn about the challenges we currently face whilst living in their home countries.

One of our AEES Distance Learning students shares her thoughts on the course:

Jelly Mae Moring

I am a part-time distance learning student of CAT’s MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies programme. I am originally from the Philippines, now residing in Leicester and working as a Research Officer at an independent housing research organisation that promotes innovative housing policy and practice, called the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF). BSHF also runs the annual World Habitat Awards competition which recognises good housing practices around the world and facilitates knowledge exchange and transfer of these practices in other context. My current research follows the themes of energy efficiency in housing, housing-health linkages and reconstruction after disaster. My past working experience includes environmental awareness-raising in Vietnam, doing initial research on integrating climate change adaptation and watershed management in Laos, and working in the private sector in China and in the Philippines.

I have a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from University of the Philippines and an MSc in Environmental Governance from Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Germany. I decided to pursue the MSc AEES programme due to my line of work and personal interest. BSHF is one of the partners of an IEE-funded project called the PowerHouse Europe Nearly Zero Energy Challenge that aims to build confidence and capacity among social housing providers in Europe ahead of the nearly zero energy building (nZEB) obligations to be introduced in 2020.

Coming from a social science background, I often have no difficulty in understanding or analysing environmental policies. However, I do lack the technical knowledge of how to make a building energy efficient or the technical know-how of sustainable architecture. This is why I am taking the course hoping to gain technical knowledge and practical experience (if possible) on energy efficiency as well as deepen my understanding of sustainability in the built environment.

For more information about our distance learning options, visit our website.

Talking about the Graduate School of the Environment

The Centre for Alternative Technology has always aimed to educate people. As our tagline states, we want to ‘inform, inspire and enable’ people to live sustainable lives. At CAT this happens in many different ways, from interactive displays as part of our visitor centre to our Zero Carbon Britain report.

Since CAT started 40 years ago people have visited us to find out more about renewable technology and low-impact living. Like everything at our site in mid-Wales, the educational aspect of the organisation started organically. People wanted to learn, so they came to us to discover more. Over the years this training has become more formalised, and we now run a series of highly regarded postgraduate programmes. Over the next two weeks this blog series will be taking a closer look at those programmes, highlighting exactly what makes them so popular and relevant today.

For more information about our courses visit the Graduate School of the Environment website or click on one of the buttons to the right.

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.

What are they doing now? We catch up with CAT students…


As part of a new series of blogs we will be talking to some of our ex students about what they’re doing now. This week Magnus Murray tells us about how his MSc in Architecture and Advanced, Environmental and Energy studies brought a new dimension to his humanitarian and international development work.

I was part of the 2006 – 2008 AEES course, full time at  CAT, it was great and I learned so much. Since then I returned to my former world of humanitarian aid and international development.  I was recruited by the British Government’s Department for International Development soon after the devastating floods of 2010 in Pakistan, to act as an advisor on shelter and water-sanitation projects.

Very soon I realised how few people in donors, NGOs and local Government were familiar with the issues we had become so fluent with: climate change, environmental design and renewable energy.  The entire country is a like a really inefficient oil boiler! In cities people heat water with gas despite the vast solar potential, in rural areas cooking is still done with wood using the most inefficient and smokey fires.  So much to do – and I quickly recognised how the time at CAT had filled my quiver with new tools and concepts  and my address book was now  full of very smart and techie people! Now we are into our third flood response in so many years, and we are supporting over 45,000 families  rebuild their homes using lime based technology and people’s own vernacular designs, at about one fifth the cost of other, conventional construction.

This is great value for money and so much more appropriate for the communities but it requires loads of hands on training in the affected villages.  We’re also trying to introduce ways to manage sewage from camps and communities using constructed wetlands or reed-bed technology, at low cost, to avoid the current practice of allowing sewage to run into the local waterways and pollute drinking water sources.

Lastly, I managed to persuade the humanitarian community here that solar PV and LEDs on 12v rock (make sense) and we should promote them – especially for people living in temporary settlements after they’ve had to leave their homes during the floods. Surrounded by water and wild animals, especially snakes seeking refuge from the waters, people are so unprotected at night.  We have now distributed over 100,000 solar lights, costing around 5 pounds each, saving people over $10m overall, allowing over 600,000 people to see a little better at night.  I like that.  And it’s great that CAT and the AEES got me to see the world with a new green, solar powered lens.