It’s all go in site community this Summer… for the last few weekends the cottage area of site has been opened up for visitors to come by and take a look at what is going on. The community at CAT started in 1975 when a group of people disillusioned by modern day living and concerned by what they saw as a looming environmental crisis moved to the abandoned slate quarry that is now known as CAT. Over the years, the hard work and enthusiasm of 1000’s of people has meant that the quarry has transformed into a fertile oasis with abundant flowers, fruits, vegetables and tree’s. Although CAT has expanded and grown there is still a living community here at CAT. It is home to 16 people including three children and three cats ( of the feline variety) who live in a variety of different houses, from renovated old slate cottages to eco-buildings, tried and tested at CAT.
The site community residents aim to put into practice the ethos of CAT through sustainable low impact living. All the houses are very well insulated, water is heated through a combination of wood burners and solar water heaters. Wood also provides heating for the houses. The community aims to reduce it’s carbon footprint by sharing resources such as washing machines etc buying food together and putting into practice sustainable low impact living. As well environmental sustainability the community is also concerned with sustaining ourselves as a community. All the decisions about the community are made through consensus decision making process in which all residents are involved. Regular meals together and work days are also important elements of community life.
As well as the weekend tours this summer, residents of site community are also working on their amazing new kitchen. The building dubbed ‘mini WISE’ as it is in the shadow of the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education is a timber frame, straw bale building with a hemp and lime render on the outside and clay inside. The kitchen is going to provide much needed cooking and eating space for the site community and long and short term volunteers who come and stay at CAT.
This week the new WISE building at CAT has been buzzing with architecture students, all working on their final projects. We took the opportunity to go and quiz them about what they are doing and how their course is going.
The WISE was alive with creative energy, paper covering the studio floors, cardboard models and sketchbooks spread out across the tables, the huge windows were filling the airy rooms with light, connecting and framing the woods and mountains around CAT.
This summer children visiting CAT had the chance to explore climate change and renewable energy in a series of play activities and carnivals. The activities allowed children to explore how our reliance on fossil fuels affects the climate and what the alternatives are.
Here are some photos from last weeks ‘Power Down’ carnival in which children made their own transport out of recycled materials, dressed up as people from their vision of a zero carbon future, paraded around site and finished on the lawn with smoothies from the bike powered smoothie maker and music powered by our bike generator.
On Friday Phil Horton the project manager of our biggest building project took some of the CAT staff on a tour of the construction site. The Wales Institute for Sustainable Education is the biggest project we’ve ever undertaken. Phil showed us many of the sustainability features of the building including the hemp lime render and rammed earth walls in the lecture theatre.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.