This article looks into bamboo as a sustainable resource. This is probably the article that I have wanted to write for the longest amount of time, without actually getting around to it. There is a lot of material to cover so there will probably be a couple of parts to this series.
What inspired me to finally write this was reading Pablo van der Lugt’s excellent book Booming Bamboo. I have put a picture of the cover below.
Pablo shares lots of interesting ideas and information throughout the book. It is pretty accessible, whether you know nothing about bamboo before reading it, or if you already knew a lot, both sets of readers would get something from the book.
Probably the first and most important thing to point out about bamboo is that it is a grass and not a tree. It is estimated that there are 1600 different species of bamboo.
The fact that bamboo is a grass is the starting point for why it is different and more sustainable than timber from trees.
For the most part bamboo stems are hollow, which makes them different from tree trunks.
As Pablo explains:
“Unlike a tree trunk, the bamboo stem does not grow in thickness. The thickness of the sprouting shoot determines the thickness of the mature stem, as cell growth only occurs in longitudinal direction.”
What makes bamboo a sustainable resource is its fast-growing speed. This is needed to cope with the demands of a large and growing world population and to displace many less sustainable materials from industries where they have been commonly used.
Of bamboo’s growing pattern Pablo writes that:
“During the growing season, the bamboo shoots will sprout from the ground and reach their final length of up to 30m in height within a couple of months… maturity is attained after about 5 years, which is the moment the stem is ready for harvesting and for use in durable products in the building industry.”
Another common myth about bamboo is that it is primarily an Asian plant. This is not true, as it is found all over the world, with large quantities in South America and Africa.
Bamboo is also different from timber from trees which are harvested by way of clear cutting. With a bamboo plantation, they are harvested annually, as Pablo explains:
“In general 20-25% of the poles in a bamboo forest or plantation can be sustainably harvested annually without decreasing the size of the plantation or the number of poles per hectare. The plant does not die after harvesting. On the contrary, by harvesting the mature poles, the yield and quality of the plantation actually increases.”
Interestingly, it is often thought that the fact that bamboo stems come in hollow tubular form makes them unsuitable for use as a structural material. However, nothing could be further from the truth. This is an incredibly efficient design that provides it with a naturally advantageous strength to weight ratio.
As the figure below shows, whether analysed on a strength / mass per volume or stiffness / mass per volume bamboo comes out as a very robust material when compared to other materials used for similar purposes. Bamboo brings many sustainable properties to the table as well, which is not the case for concrete or steel.
What you need to know
This article looked into bamboo as a sustainable resource.
We looked into some key differences between bamboo and trees. These include the fact that bamboo is a grass, it’s fast-growing speed and its suitability for annual harvesting. We also looked into the incredible strength of this material, which makes it suitable for a number of important and high value end uses. We will look into these in next week’s article.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to raise the profile of this sustainable resource?