Centre for Alternative Technology

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Centre for Alternative Technology
CAT logo 2010.png
FormationNovember 1973 (1973-11)
FounderGerard Morgan-Grenville
TypeSustainability, Technology
Legal statusRegistered charity
PurposeResearch and application of alternative economics
  • Powys, Wales

The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) (Welsh: Canolfan y Dechnoleg Amgen) is an eco-centre in Powys, mid-Wales, dedicated to demonstrating and teaching sustainable development. CAT, despite its name, no longer concentrates its efforts exclusively on alternative technology, but provides information on all aspects of sustainable living. It is open to visitors, offers postgraduate degrees as well as shorter residential and one day courses; and publishes information on renewable energy, sustainable architecture, organic farming, gardening, and sustainable living. CAT also runs education programmes for schools and sells environmentally friendly items through its on site shop, restaurant and mail order department.


The Centre's forecourt and ticket office
The inclined railway from the car park to the ticket office

CAT was founded by businessman-turned-environmentalist Gerard Morgan-Grenville, and opened in 1973 in the disused Llwyngwern slate quarry near Machynlleth (once served by the narrow-gauge Corris Railway), where it occupies a seven-acre (28,000 m²) site.[1][2] The organisation was originally known as the "British National Centre for the development of Alternative Technology".[2]:14.39 Inspiration for the early CAT pioneers included the then-recent books Small Is Beautiful, A Blueprint for Survival, and The Limits to Growth[2]:08.11 as well as an aim to explore alternative ways of living.[2]:06.12

CAT was previously aligned to the Urban Centre for Appropriate Technology (UCAT), which was based in Bristol and has since evolved into the Centre for Sustainable Energy.[3]

David Lea and Pat Borer won the Gold Medal for Architecture at the National Eisteddfod of Wales of 2001 for their work on the WISE building at the CAT.[4]

Visitor centre[edit]

In 1975 a permanent exhibition opened in order to generate wider interest. The 40-acre (160,000 m2) site with 7 acres (28,000 m2) of interactive displays is the largest tourist attraction in the area. It is open all-year except Christmas, seven days a week. It is a registered charity.[5]

The facilities and exhibits include:


The Centre offers a range of courses which are between a day and a week in length. Some of these courses are offered to the general public while others are accredited courses for professional installers.[6] CAT is involved with school education through training teachers, producing materials and offering special tours and materials on site.[7]

The Centre includes a Graduate School of the Environment. It offers postgraduate courses in renewable energy, architecture and environmental studies.[8]

The Centre has run a Professional Diploma in Architecture course in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies, since 2008, which allows students to obtain an accredited Part II architectural qualification.[9]

Wales Institute for Sustainable Education[edit]

In summer 2010, CAT inaugurated the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE), a large educational building designed as a case study of sustainable architecture. The building contains a lecture theatre and accommodation[10] and demonstrates ecological building principles such as passive solar building design and heat recovery ventilation as well as low-impact building materials such as wood, hemp, lime and rammed earth. The external walls of the building are made from 500mm thick hempcrete, whereas the lecture theatre has 7.2m high walls made from 320t of rammed earth.[11]

A building management system is used to monitor a wide variety of parameters inside the building, providing data for research projects by CAT's sustainable architecture students. The building is used for teaching postgraduate degrees and short courses and is also available as a conference venue and exhibition space.

In 2010, the WISE building was awarded the first place in The Daily Telegraph's list of Top 10 Buildings 2010[12] and came fourth in The Guardian's Top 10 list of buildings for 2010.[13] It received a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Award in 2011.[14]


CAT originally relied on a collection of water, wind and solar power, but following power shortages it began to receive power from the National Grid. Shortly afterwards, in 2004, a large new wind turbine was built using funds generated by selling shares in the project to the community, Bro Dyfi Community renewables. From 2009 September onwards CAT operates a microgrid system which includes elements of on- and off-grid operation.[15][16]

CAT gets its water from an existing man-made reservoir in the slate quarry on which it is based and processes its own sewage in its reedbeds.

Regional impact[edit]

The presence of the Centre in the Dyfi Valley has brought an increased environmental emphasis to the area, which is now designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.[17] In the nearest town, Machynlleth, CAT plc formerly operated a wholefood vegetarian café and a separate shop. Following the closure of CAT plc, the CAT charity retained ownership of the vegetarian cafe but subsequently sold it to its workers. The cafe is now run as a private enterprise but continues to operate as a vegetarian cafe. The wholefood shop was closed, as the building was not owned by CAT; however, a new wholefood shop Dyfi Wholefoods was opened by the staff who were made redundant. An industrial estate (the Dyfi Eco Park) near Machynlleth Railway Station houses the offices of Dulas Ltd, a renewable energy company started by ex-CAT employees.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ MacGregor, Sue (28 April 2014). "BBC Radio 4 - The Reunion, The Centre for Alternative Technology". BBC. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Reunion - The Centre for Alternative Technology - BBC Sounds". www.bbc.co.uk. 28 April 2014. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  3. ^ Centre for Sustainable Energy
  4. ^ "Gold Medal for Architecture". National Eisteddfod of Wales. Archived from the original on 24 January 2021.
  5. ^ "CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY CHARITY LIMITED, registered charity no. 265239". Charity Commission for England and Wales.
  6. ^ "CAT Short Courses". Archived from the original on 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  7. ^ "CAT Education Department". Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  8. ^ "Graduate School of the Environment". Retrieved 2013-11-08.
  9. ^ Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), Machynlleth, Wales; Professional Diploma in Architecture Part II: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies, The Architects' Journal, December 2010. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
  10. ^ "Venue Hire at CAT". Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  11. ^ "CAT Information Service: The Wales Institute for Sustainable Education". Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  12. ^ Woodman, Ellis (2010-12-14). "The Daily Telegraph: Top 10 Buildings of 2010". London. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  13. ^ "The Guardian: The best architecture of 2010, by Rowan Moore". London. 2010-12-12. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  14. ^ Jonathan Glancey RIBA awards offer a bird's eye view of British architecture, The Guardian, 19 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
  15. ^ "The Ecologist: First island power grid being used in Wales". Retrieved 2011-02-15.
  16. ^ "Microgrid research at Centre for Alternative Technology". Mendeley.com. doi:10.1109/ISGTEurope.2011.6162725. Retrieved 2012-06-13.
  17. ^ "UK National Commission for UNESCO: Dyfi Valley awarded unique UN status". Archived from the original on 2015-04-24. Retrieved 2014-09-15.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°37′20.86″N 3°50′29.55″W / 52.6224611°N 3.8415417°W / 52.6224611; -3.8415417