New biomass teaching facility unveiled

Last week saw the launch of CAT’s new renewable heating teaching facility. The system will provide heat and hot water for several of our buildings, including the WISE education  and conference centre, whilst also being used as an example system for training heating engineers and plumbers in biomass installation. Display signs will help visitors and school groups to understand the benefits, and potential drawbacks, of using biomass as a fuel.

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Image: Launch of biomass boiler. Credit: Ian Care

Speaking at the launch event on Friday 7th October, CAT CEO Adrian Ramsay said: “The installation uses established and proven technology and fits well with CAT’s mission of helping people deliver practical solutions that can address the challenge of climate change.”

The system works on both wood chip and wood pellet – the first time the manufacturers have created this kind of combined fuel system outside of a laboratory. We plan to source fuel from local suppliers wherever possible, with much of the wood chip coming from a supplier based less than 1 mile from the CAT site in Pantperthog.

Speak Up Week of Action

Join us from 8th-16th October in a Climate Coalition Week of Action to celebrate the people, places and things we want to protect from climate change – and make sure our political representatives feel that love.

facebook insta speak up beautiful things buntingAll over the country, we’ll be seeing nature walks, tea parties, classic lobbies, community energy visits and all sorts of other events to start those key conversations about climate change. All this will either involve politicians or be showcased to them, so that they see, feel and hear how much their constituents care about what we could lose to climate change.

People all over the UK are organising events in their local areas, and we’d love you to be involved. Join or organise an event in your area at weekofaction.org.uk

At CAT we’re hosting a coffee morning with Simon Thomas AM on Friday 14th October. Come along and discuss why you care about the environment and what you think politicians should be doing.

What’s on at CAT this summer?

Every day during the school holidays…

Enjoy special activities every day during the school holidays (18th July to 29th August). Get the kids out exploring nature and let them get creative with eco-crafts and solar boat-building. Take a guided tour or explore our brand new Quarry Trail. Just relax in our organic gardens or stop for lunch in the CAT cafe. See you soon!

Fun for kids!

 

EcoCrafts-Blog

 

 

Get crafty with natural jewellery making

 

 

 

 

 

SolarBoat

 

 

Put your inventing cap on and build a solar-powered boat

 

 

 

 

 

SlugsAndBugs

 

 

Get up close to some amazing beasties on a slug & bug hunt

 

 

 

And adults too!

 

GuidedTour

 

 

Take a guided tour to learn more about renewable energy and greener buildings

 

 

 

 

NewQuarryTrail

 

 

 

 

Explore our brand new Quarry Trail for amazing views across the old quarry on which CAT is built

 

 

 

 

 

Woodwork

 

 

Release your inner bodger with green woodcraft demonstrations every Wednesday

 

 

 

 

*School holiday activites run from 18th July to 29th August, with kids’ activities and guided tours on every day

To find out what’s on when, take a look at our events calendar at http://visit.cat.org.uk/whats-on

 

Emergency Buildings for Gaza and Nepal

Climate Change and Sustainability are very complex issues. The range of themes CAT students cover is incredibly varied – ranging from how to measure the heat loss from a building to heterodox economic theory. This week, humanitarian architecture takes centre stage. Students on the MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation (Built Environment/Planning) are joined by Jamie Richardson of Shelter and Construction to look at emergency buildings.

emergency shelter
UNHCR tarpaulin on emergency shelter

Learning about construction in these extreme environments is as connected to sustainability as everything else CAT does. The project is designed to give students the opportunity to engage with the task of building suitable shelters for refugees in times of conflict or disaster.

The module looks at the broad range of considerations needed for this kind of work: anthropology, logistics, materials, community consultation, the role of the NGO, thermal comfort and wellbeing, diplomacy and, of course, the sustainability of solutions among many other connected issues. It aims to equip students to be able to go into the field and make a difference to people’s lives. While the types of buildings that we might see on the news that are used to house refugees may seem like simple structures, the thought and logistical complexity that goes into their construction is considerable. There are three overarching considerations that shelters need to provide: durability, dignity and safety.

For the purpose of this module, students are given two contrasting scenarios in which they will be expected to engage with the theoretical and practical issues for each specific situation. The first situation the students faced was the aftermath of an earthquake in Nepal, with large numbers of people affected. This scenario was designed to demonstrate how a crisis might play out in a rural setting. Students looked at the location, available materials and logistics and then went out and built what they considered a viable shelter for people involved in the disaster. The second scenario, Gaza, offered students the opportunity to think theoretically and practically about shelter provision in a war affected, urban setting where practical considerations about the availability of materials, as well as safety, are paramount. The value of the module is that students not only get the theoretical background on emergency shelter provision, but then can put that theory into practice by actually constructing shelters and getting feedback on their efficacy.

bamboo earthquake shelter
A bamboo structre for use in Nepal

Over the next few days, students will be working on a practical research and development project for a modular, scalable design for a two story building that can be rapidly constructed using the small timbers available in Gaza. The basic design is already in use in Gaza. The designs make use of only 2” by 1” timbers and 1/2” inch plywood to construct various designs of I-beams suitable for floors, roofs and walls. The work student are carrying out this week will build on this existing design, testing new detailing in the construction of the floors and building some I-beams and other elements that will be load tested by Oxford Brookes University.

students emergency shelter
Constructing I-beams to test for use in two-story emergency buildings in Gasa

It is a compelling example of how the principles of sustainable architecture can be brought into this immediate and complex problem. Given that the world is seeing an unprecedented amount of forcibly displaced people globally, the skills taught on this module are able to positively contribute to a serious and growing problem.

More about the course

The EU and the environment

What would UK environmental policy and practice look like if we voted to leave the EU? With the referendum fast approaching, we explore the possibilities.

Once known as ‘the Dirty Man of Europe’, the UK has cleaned up its act in recent years thanks, in large part, to the influence of the European Union. If the UK votes to leave the EU, how might this impact environmental policy and legislation in the UK? And how would the UK’s exit affect environmental protection in the remaining EU countries?

leavesEU countries have worked together over decades to build one of the most comprehensive packages of environmental legislation in the world, including habitat protection, pollution control and climate change mitigation. Much of the UK’s environmental law has been developed through its membership of the EU, so it’s important to explore the potential impacts of a Brexit scenario.

A large number of EU directives have helped to enforce standards in areas as diverse as water quality, air quality, fish stocks, waste disposal, hazardous substances, radioactive waste, recycling, construction, habitat and wildlife protection, GMOs, animal welfare and climate change.

Whilst some aspects of EU policy (such as the Common Agricultural Policy), have been damaging to the environment, most EU environmental policies have resulted in a raising of standards across EU member states. The EU-wide nature of these policies makes them more effective as many of the issues are trans-boundary (water, air and wildlife all move across boundaries). Single nations are also less likely to raise standards unilaterally due to fear of competitive disadvantage. EU-wide legislation creates a level playing field that countries are more willing to sign up to.

In the event of a ‘leave’ vote, there’s no clear consensus over which exit scenario the UK would follow but, irrespective of what the final arrangement might be, Brexit would result in some important changes:

  • Loss of the UK’s voice in EU decisions affecting the environment.
  • In international negotiations, such as the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change, the UK would contribute independently. This would allow us to steer our own path, but we would lose influence over the EU position, which holds more sway at a global level owing to its size and economic importance.
  • The Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy would cease to apply and we would need to find alternatives. The consequences of this change for land and marine management could be significant.

 

Options for the UK and Europe

Other impacts would be dependent on the type of relationship negotiated between the UK and the remaining EU Member States. There are a number of options, but it’s uncertain which option would be pursued by the UK government.

One option in the event of an ‘out’ vote is that the UK joins countries such as Norway and Iceland as part of the European Economic Area (EEA). In this scenario, most EU environmental legislation would continue to apply, with notable exceptions being the Bathing Water Directive and the Birds and Habitats Directives (see box). If the UK stayed within the EEA, we would retain some routes into EU policy debates, but could no longer vote on decisions affecting EU legislation.

In relation to industry, EU environmental law covers two broad areas: ensuring industrial processes don’t cause undue environmental damage and ensuring products entering the EEA meet agreed standards. Examples of the former include limiting emissions and setting broad standards for air and water quality; the latter includes restriction of hazardous substances in products and ensuring suitability for recycling. Most of this legislation would continue to apply if the UK left the EU but remained in the EEA.

 


Bathing water and habitats

The Bathing Water Directive was the main reason that the UK introduced improved water treatment from the 1970s onwards. Prior to this, the seas around the UK were some of the dirtiest in Europe, thanks to the government policy of ‘dilute and disperse’. In the event of the UK leaving the EU, this directive would cease to apply. Although it is unlikely that the UK government would take the unpopular step of weakening standards in this area, there would no longer be pressure from Europe to keep our seas clean.

Similarly, the Habitats Directive would no longer be in force under any of the likely Brexit scenarios. Enacted in 1992, this protects habitats and important species of animals and plants. The UK government has made clear its frustration with some aspects of the Habitats Directive, particularly where infrastructure developments have been affected. There is therefore real concern that UK habitats and wildlife could receive less protection outside of the EU.


 

Other options include a negotiated bilateral agreement with the EU, with some access to the Single Market, or the UK could withdraw completely from the Single Market.  In both of these scenarios, different types of legislation would be affected in different ways.

treeEU regulations are applied directly in member countries so would no longer be applicable in the UK if we chose to leave the EU and not join the EEA. It would then be up to the UK government to decide on UK legislation in these areas.

EU directives are not directly applicable in UK law. Many of them have been transposed into UK law so would continue to apply until changed by the UK parliament even if we left the EEA. Other directives have been implemented under the 1972 European Communities Act, so new legislation would have to be enacted if this act was repealed.

New UK legislation could of course increase, maintain or reduce the level of environmental protection. However, the current government’s actions and promises to ‘cut the green crap’ do not bode well. It’s worth noting that EU states are currently allowed to adopt ‘more stringent protection measures’ than EU legislation requires (albeit with some limitations), yet the UK government has chosen to adopt a ‘no gold plating’ approach – sticking with the minimum standards – while complaining that many of those standards are unnecessary ‘red tape’ for industry.

Even where the UK is no longer bound by EU environmental legislation, companies exporting to the EU would have to comply with EU industry standards. The EU is unlikely to allow equal access to the market for products developed under lower environmental standards where this might have implications for competitiveness.

In or out?

Overall, there’s still much uncertainty over what impact an ‘out’ vote might have. Before its involvement in Europe, the UK did not have a strong record on environmental protections, but in some areas it’s unlikely that we would move backwards. If we remain in the EEA then many protections remain.

However, evidence of the government’s dislike of ‘red tape’ and ‘green crap’, particularly when it comes to protecting the environment against the interests of big business, does give cause for concern. Environmental protection is a long-term investment, often overshadowed by headline-grabbing short-term issues, and in the age of austerity it’s easy to see how certain environmental considerations could become neglected without the safeguards offered by the EU.

In the next few weeks, the voices for ‘in’ and ‘out’ will clamour ever more loudly for your vote – you can use this chance to ask questions about their vision for the environment, putting the issues you care about at the heart of the debate.

 


Climate change

Both the EU collectively and individual members states sign up to new treaties on climate change.
Climate targets are implemented through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), covering emissions from power plants and aviation, and the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD), covering emissions from elsewhere. Together, these policies govern overall totals for emissions, and EU legislation determines how allowances are allocated.

Other policies that help reduce emissions within the EU include legislation on transport and energy, including rules on energy efficiency and renewables, and emissions targets for car manufacturers. Energy efficiency rules include the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive. Targets are set for the percentage of energy that should come from renewable sources, plus targets and regulations on biomass.

EU commitments agreed at the Paris climate change talks are currently being developed into a package of new measures, including revisions to ETS, new renewables targets, changes to energy efficiency legislation, and the possibility of the inclusion of legislation on carbon stored in land and forestry.

So what would be the impact of Brexit on EU climate policy? The UK, along with other North-West Member States, has pushed for an ambitious approach to targets, whilst states in the South and East of the EU have been more reluctant. The UK has been particularly influential in determining targets for 2020 and 2030. UK support has been for market-based mechanisms such as ETS over targets for particular technologies. Under a Brexit scenario, EU policy may therefore become less ambitious and more technology-focused in its targets.


 

Read more

There are a few useful reports that cover these issues in more depth:

The EU Referendum and the UK Environment

The potential policy and environmental consequences for the UK of a departure from the European Union

Brexit – the Implications for UK Environmental Policy and Regulation

 

CS100a-cover

This is an extract from Clean Slate Summer 2016. To receive Clean Slate once a quarter and stay up to date with news and veiws from CAT, sign up for membership today.


Sir John Houghton Bursary for CAT graduate school

Sir John Houghton, former co-chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Scientific Assessment Working Group and former Chief Executive of the Met Office, has made a donation of £60,000 to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) to create an annual bursary for a student beginning one of the Masters courses at the Graduate School of the Environment.

CAT’s mission is to inspire, inform and enable people with practical solutions for sustainability. Our Graduate School offers a range of postgraduate programmes including MSc Sustainability and Adaptation, MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment and a Part II Architecture programme.

A bursary of £4,500 will be awarded annually to a promising student who demonstrates that they have an excellent academic record and a passion for tackling climate change.

SirJohnHoughton_Web

Sir John Houghton has had an illustrious career as one of the world’s most eminent climate scientists, and is a long term supporter of CAT’s work. On making the donation, he said:

“I have spent a lifetime studying the atmosphere and the climate and latterly have been concerned with the reality of human induced climate change. I now want to help the next generation tackle this serious problem, possibly the biggest the world faces.”

Adrian Ramsay, CAT Chief Executive said:

“CAT is extremely honoured to receive this donation from Sir John Houghton, someone who has made such as great contribution to our understanding of climate change. CAT now has more than one thousand alumni working across industry, government and academia who are collectively implementing the changes that society needs to make to tackle climate change. This award will enable more people to join them and drive forward the solutions that enable humanity to rise to this challenge.”

The closing date for applications for the 2016 award is Sunday 26th June.

For terms and conditions and an application form, please see the bursaries page.

Environmental hustings at CAT – 7th April

[Cymraeg isod / Welsh below]

In the run-up to the Welsh Assembly elections, we are hosting an environmental hustings at CAT in association with the Dyfi Biosphere – and we’d love you to join us.

  • 6pm – 7pm: Join us for a meal (£5) in the CAT café and submit your questions for the panel
  • 7pm – 8.30pm: Panel Q&As in the WISE Sheppard Theatre
  • 8.30pm – 10pm: Stay for a drink and discuss the issues raised

 

The hustings itself is free of charge and there is no need to book. Simultaneous translation will be provided.

We’ve invited the environmental spokespeople from the six key political parties in Wales – this is your chance to ask them what they plan to do about the issues you care about.

Keep an eye on CAT’s facebook page to find out who is coming from each party.

Will you join us for the meal, or just want more information? Contact media@cat.org.uk

Directions to CAT: http://visit.cat.org.uk/index.php/how-to-get-to-cat

See you there!

Graduation

 

Hystings amgylcheddol CAT – 7 Ebrill

Gydag etholiadau Cynulliad Cymru’n agosau, rydym yn cynnal hystings amgylcheddol yn CAT mewn partneriaeth â Biosffer Dyfi – a byddem wrth ein bodd pe gallech ymuno â ni.

Rydym wedi gwahodd llefarwyr amgylcheddol o’r chwe phlaid wleidyddol allweddol yng Nghymru– dyma’ch cyfle i ofyn iddynt beth maent yn bwriadu ei wneud am y pethau sy’n bwysig i chi. Cadwch lygad ar dudalen facebook CAT i ddarganfod pwy sy’n dod i gynrychioli pob plaid.

Amseroedd ar 7 Ebrill:

  • 6pm-7pm: Ymunwch â ni am bryd o fwyd (£5) yng nghaffi CAT a chyflwynwch eich cwestiynau ar gyfer y panel
  • 7pm-8.30pm: Panel Hawl i Holi yn Theatr Sheppard Adeilad WISE
  • 8.30pm-10pm: Arhoswch i gael diod a thrafod y materion a godwyd

 

Os hoffech ymuno â ni ar gyfer y pryd bwyd neu os hoffech fwy o wybodaeth, cysylltwch â media@cat.org.uk

Mae’r hystings yn rhad ac am ddim a does dim angen cadw lle. Bydd adnoddau cyfieithu ar y pryd ar gael.

Cyfarwyddiadau i CAT: http://visit.cat.org.uk/index.php/how-to-get-to-cat

Welwn ni chi yno!

‘Zero carbon to be enshrined in UK law’

The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) welcomes the news that the government intends to enshrine a commitment to zero carbon in UK law, and calls on Ministers to outline a clear plan for how this target will be reached.

CAT Chief Executive Adrian Ramsay said:

The climate science demands that we get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the second half of this century. To do this, we must set ambitious targets and we must start investing in the technologies that will help get us there.

Having stated that ‘The question is not whether but how we do it,’ Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom should now commit to a target date for getting to zero, and outline a clear plan of action. CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research has shown that we can reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions using technology available today – all that’s needed is the political will. CAT calls on the government to revisit recent changes to UK energy policy and reinstate support for proven, effective renewable technologies that will help us meet our climate commitments.”

Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future outlines a scenario that would allow us to ‘keep the lights on’ through a combination of ‘powering down’ our energy demand through efficiency measures and ‘powering up’ our renewable energy supply. We can do this without pinning our hopes on future technologies, and without new nuclear.  CAT’s most recent research project, Zero Carbon: Making it Happen looks at the barriers to achieving net zero emissions, and how these can be overcome.

Minister for Natural Resources visits new Quarry Walk at CAT

Welsh Government Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sargeant AM and local Assembly Member William Powell AM visited CAT this week to see the beginnings of a new woodland trail.

William Powell and Carl Sargeant meet with CAT CEO Adrian Ramsay, External Relations Officer Paul Allen and the team of staff and volunteers who are creating the new Quarry Walk.

Opening later this summer, the Quarry Walk will allow visitors to explore changing land-use patterns and human impact on the environment, taking in agricultural, industrial and woodland areas. The new trail will offer spectacular views across the old slate quarry on which CAT is built, and will allow access to never-before-seen areas of the CAT woodlands and gardens.

Built with support from Natural Resources Wales, the Quarry Walk will also allow visitors to get a better understanding of the plants and animals that share the site, including rare species such as dormice and lesser horseshoe bats.

Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant AM said: ‘One of the priorities of Natural Resources Wales is to provide opportunities for people to learn about and enjoy nature and the environment. CAT’s Quarry Walk is a great example of a place where people can get closer to nature and learn more about what we can do to manage landscapes in ways that work for both people and nature.’

William Powell AM said: ‘CAT’s work in highlighting environmental issues and solutions over the past 40 years has inspired thousands of people to care more about and to do more to help the natural world. The development of this trail adds a new dimension to this work, bringing to life the history and biodiversity of the site itself.’

CAT CEO Adrian Ramsay said: ‘The new trail will allow visitors to CAT to gain a better understanding of the impact that people have on the environment, and how we can create landscapes that actively benefit nature. It also opens up views across the Dulas Valley into the Snowdonia National Park, providing a stunning backdrop to a visit to CAT.’

The Quarry Walk officially opens in late summer, but CAT’s woodlands team will be offering tours of sections of the trail during the Easter holidays as part of a programme of activities for visitors, which includes tours, talks, demonstrations and a range of eco-activities for kids. Activities run from Monday 21 March to Saturday 9 April inclusive. See visit.cat.org.uk or call 01654 705950 for details.

Rammed Earth Vault – a world first?

I have spent time over the last couple of months building a vault out of un-stabilised in-situ rammed earth.  Without known precedent, it is believed to be a world first.  Although there is a pre-cast example built in Austria by students under the supervision of Martin Rauch, there are significant challenges relating to the in-situ construction process that I was testing.  The vault is a 1:5 mock-up of part of my Final Major Project proposal for sustainable Greenbelt Development outside Edinburgh.

IMG_1836

The full size vault would be 11 metres wide and 9.5 metres tall at its highest point and extends 20 metres to form an open air hall aimed to encourage a respect for the earth that we rely on to grow food and that can also provide another of our basic needs: shelter.  It would also be occasionally used for events relating to the small scale, sustainable farm work that takes place on the rest of the site.

The principle behind the rammed earth vault lies in the structural properties of rammed earth, which has significant compressive strength but cannot withstand tensile stress.  When flipped to form an arch, a catenary curve – following the path of a chain as it hangs in tension from two fixed points – creates a structure that is entirely in compression.  Whilst the structural principle is ancient and simple, the construction implications of angled ramming and formwork design were unable to be proven possible until the removal of the formwork. The revealing of the finished vault on the 16th of December was witnessed by CAT students from across the REBE, SA and Prof Dip courses.

I would like to put out a huge thank you to the staff and long list of students who helped me and to Rowland Keable, whose advice on the removal of formwork (which can be a risky procedure) was invaluable.

Here is a video showing the formwork being removed:

 

This blog is by Tasha Aitken, a final year student on the Professional Diploma in Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course; the Part II Architecture course at CAT.