VIDEO: Is biochar the answer?

by Lewis Winks Biology Department

The charcoal industry has had an interesting history, once being the staple commerce of woodlands in the British Isles, it provided work for many and was a quintessential part of our landscape. Soon after the discovery of coal as a fuel source in the early 1700s charcoal became an unprofitable venture, and the woodsmen who made it became a part of history, lost to the beginnings of the industrial revolution.

So who would have thought, that 250 years after the first use of fossil fuels we would be turning back to charcoal as a means of undoing the damage of those emissions. Poetic it may seem, but to those who are studying the capacity for Biochar to sequester Co2 from the atmosphere, this is an all too real opportunity. And it doesnt stop at mopping up emissions; Biochar has the potential to improve degraded agricultural land and reduce fertiliser dependency while creating rural jobs, providing a use for organic waste and becoming an integrated part of our biomass energy systems. Continue reading “VIDEO: Is biochar the answer?”

From the green valleys to the White House

The small nation of Wales will be presenting some huge ideas at this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC, later this month. Experts will discuss the future, including the buildings we could live in, the food we might eat and the way we could use energy in a world without fossil fuels.

The Convergence on Zero event (from 25-26 June) will present leading thinkers from climate science, energy, politics and technology. The event is free, and open to anyone interested in the big questions about the 21st  century – climate change, oil depletion and the economic crisis.

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Why green manure is important and how to use it in your garden

by Katie Croft Gardens Department

As the sun’s finally shining and our seedlings are ready for planting out, now’s the time for turning in the green manures on site. In these pictures you can see me turning in the field beans in our green manure display, where we demonstrate a few different kinds and what they’re used for.

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Green manures are a key part of organic gardening, and they serve a number of different purposes. They improve soil structure, prevent soil erosion, can inhibit weed growth and most importantly, increase the soil’s fertility. The main idea is that you grow a certain green manure crop on your land, and when it’s still young (about 6 weeks is perfect), you ‘turn’ it in, or dig it in. The plant then slowly releases its nutrients as it decays and increases the amount of organic matter in the soil. Green manure crops are hardy and can be grown over winter and spring, so you don’t need to leave the ground bare.

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Field beans, like all of the bean family, is a nitrogen-fixing plant. It has little nodules on its roots where nitrogen-fixing bacteria live in a fascinating mutual relationship- the bacteria transform nutrients from the air into a form usable for the plant, and the plant feeds the bacteria with sugars from its roots.

There loads of great green manure crops that can be grown at different times of year and well in different climates, or even as a ground cover underneath other crops to increase fertility year round so do a bit of research and plan some into your sowing calendar

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You might be interested in our organic gardening courses, our free information and books on garening or visiting the gardens here at CAT. You might also want to download a detailed guide to using green manures produced by Garden Organic or have a look at the BBC’s guide to green manures.

A new arrival: the final piece of our renewable heating puzzle

by Dave Hood Engineering Department

With a mix of excitement and trepidation, I watched the 3½ tonne hot water storage tank get craned into place next to our new woodchip power station. Its job is to act as the thermal store – a big hot water storage tank – for the whole of our district heating scheme. This was the final piece of the puzzle the CAT engineering team had been waiting for.

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Its importance is that we can now begin the final stage of connecting the new Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system up to the site district heating network and the new WISE building, and get all of the testing done in time for the winter heating season. This will draw to a close the design and installation stages of a project I have been working on for almost 3 years.

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However, it does not stop there, as the installation is only one part of our site energy strategy. In September, I will start my doctorate research into biomass CHP, and its potential for community scale systems in the UK. Hopefully this will give others the opportunity to learn from the results of our experiments in this fledgling field of energy generation.

I tried to remember the importance of this, as the tank was lowered into place and set into its permanent home, ready for its connection, but a wry smile crept across my face every time I saw the big yellow crane and I remembered that engineers never really grow up!

You can watch a slide show the entire delivary of the new hot water storage tank by clicking the button below.

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For help with flickr slideshows click here.

Measuring the footprint of the Dyfi Valley

by: Julie Bromilow Education Department

“I would thoroughly endorse the value of the learning experiences these pupils benefited from” said Jan Bond, External Subject Expert for Geography at the Welsh Assembly Government after visiting Machynlleth primary school to interview children about the Dyfi Footprint project they had just completed.

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The Dyfi Footprint is a joint venture between CAT who work with schools, and Ecodyfi, who work within the local community. An Eco Footprint measures the amount of land that we use to produce the resources that we need, to deal with our waste and sequester our carbon, and tells us that if everyone in the world lived the same lifestyle we do in Wales then we’d need nearly three planets to support us. My work in the school was set to investigate the notion that the wider community can be reached through schools. The project mainly focused on an eight week programme with an enthusiastic year six class, but also included workshops for the school governors, all the teaching staff, the PTA, and members of the Eco Committee and School Council. The Year 6 work began with a planning session with Mr Jones the class teacher – I told him what I wanted to do, and he told me what targets needed to be met in all the core subjects. Incorporating these curriculum needs into the project made sure that it was never an ‘add-on’ – instead it was integrated into the teaching.

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