Bamboo is a type of grass with over 1,000 species that vary enormously in their size and preferred growing conditions. Thus, bamboo is found in several diverse locations around the world: native species exist in countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia. In many of these places, using bamboo for a wide variety of purposes is part of the culture. For example, in China, large bamboo stems are used as scaffolding, bamboo shoots are preserved or cooked in various ways and then eaten, and small stems are used to make flute-like musical instruments. And bamboo has many more fascinating uses besides these:
1. Proofing buildings against floods and earthquakes: As discussed in a previous post on climate change, bamboo stems are very strong and flexible, making them an ideal construction material. In many places, climate change has increased the number and intensity of floods and bamboo has proven to be perfect for building flood-resistant housing in Ecuador. In 2009, the World Bank’s Development
Marketplace initiative financed a project to build 500 such structures, which are elevated to protect the families but which have the additional positive effect of connecting 1,000 farmers with 500 construction workers with an existing bamboo supply chain.
Bamboo is proving useful against other elements too: its stems are increasingly chosen to construct earthquake-proof buildings. In 2011, for example, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), along with a few partner institutions, launched a major initative to increase the use of bamboo to mitigate the worst effects of climate change in the coastal regions of Ecuador and Peru. This is because bamboo stems can be bent and deformed significantly without breaking: a properly constructed bamboo house will sway back and forth during an earthquake, without any damage to the bamboo. After a violent earthquake in Limón, Costa Rica, in April 1991, several bamboo houses constructed by the National Bamboo Project survived intact. In fact, the elevated bamboo structures are able withstand floods, storms, landslides and earthquakes.
2. New generation of green vehicles: Bamboo bicycles and scooters have been around for some time; the Technical Museum of Prague has a bamboo bike dating from 1896. In cars bamboo was only ever used to make decorative parts such as the dashboard. However, since the April 2011 creation of the world’s first biodegradable concept car made from bamboo, rattan, steel, and nylon—by Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue and German product designer Albercht Birkner—the idea of a bamboo car has caught on. Several other bamboo concept cars have since been showcased by different designers, and bamboo was used in two cars during the American round of the 2012 Shell Eco-marathon, which challenges student teams to design and build energy-efficient vehicles. The advantage of some of these futuristic creations is that they can be almost entirely biodegradable.
3. Medical healing: Bamboo naturally contains chemicals which have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. These qualities have been known for thousands of years by certain cultures, leading to its use in traditional medicine. For example, in Chinese medicine, bamboo sap is used to clear phlegm and bamboo leaves are used to treat fevers.
4. Beer with benefits: Houses, cars, medicine… Bamboo also features in another essential item: beer. Bamboo Beer Limited, a contract brewer from Ontario, Canada, was established in 2012. Through the promotion and sale of their beer, they promote ‘conscious capitalism‘ – business which is socially responsible and sustainable, as well as profitable. They will be making their bamboo beer (“Beer with Benefits”) available to local markets around the world from July 2013. Other brands of bamboo beer have already been available from local brewers for a while. One drinker reports that the beverage “has a mellow and refreshing flavor, with an obvious bamboo fragrance.” Other environmentally-friendly and sustainable brewers of bamboo beer include Bambusa Brewery in Mexico, who produced the first Latin American bamboo beer which is now available in two different styles.
5. Mitigating climate change in Bolivia: Bamboo has enormous potential to help mitigate climate change in Bolivia, as well as the rest of the world. Bamboo, like all plants, absorbs carbon dioxide (one of the harmful greenhouse gases released by the burning of fossil fuels) as it grows, transforming it into other carbon-based molecules which make up the leaves, stems, roots, and all other parts of the plant. This keeps the carbon safely stored for the duration of the plant’s life, preventing carbon dioxide from accumulating in the atmosphere where it would trap heat and contribute to global warming. The faster a plant grows, the more carbon dioxide it can absorb. Since bamboo holds the Guiness World Record for being the fastest growing plant on the planet—a species that belongs to the ’45 genera’ of bamboo (more formally known as the genus Schizostachyum) grows up to 91 centimeters per day—this makes bamboo an ideal candidate for reducing carbon dioxide levels and mitigating climate change. Specifically, a study of a bamboo forest in Carrasco National Park in Bolivia found that the guadua angustifolia species which grows there stores as much carbon as some trees such as the Chinese fir and oak. In other words, it isn’t just trees that are good for fighting climate change – bamboo is very effective too. The study has now been published as a Working Paper of the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD) and is available to download for free.
Do you know of any other unexpected properties of bamboo? Please leave a reply below.[contact-form to=’firstname.lastname@example.org’ subject=’Mailer: 5 uses of bamboo’][contact-field label=’Like this article? Sign up for weekly email updates from Development Roast’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Your title’ type=’select’ required=’1′ options=’Mr.,Ms.,Dr.,Professor’/][contact-field label=’Your full name’ type=’name’/][/contact-form]
Tracey Li is a Senior Research and Communications Intern with INESAD.
For your reference:
BambooKi.com, July 14, 2011, A New Kind of Green Beer – Bamboo! <http://www.bambooki.com/blog/green-bamboo-beer/>
Cowan, L. K., inhabitat.com, April 13, 2011, World’s First Biodegradable Car: Kenneth Cobonpue’s Phoenix Roadster. <http://inhabitat.com/kenneth-cobonpue%E2%80%99s-phoenix-biodegradable-bamboo-and-rattan-roadster/>
carbuzz.com, October 5, 2011, Top 5 Bamboo Cars. <http://www.carbuzz.com/news/2011/10/5/Top-5-Bamboo-Cars-7705091/>
Development Marketplace (2009) Flood-resistant Elevated Bamboo Houses: Promoting Innovative Housing Resilient to Climate-related Disasters .< http://wbi.worldbank.org/developmentmarketplace/idea/flood-resistant-elevated-bamboo-houses-promoting-innovative-housing-resilient-climate-related-d>
Dharmananda, S., Institute for Traditional Medicine, Bamboo As Medicine. <http://www.itmonline.org/arts/bamboo.htm>
Guadua Bamboo, Bamboo Genera List. <http://www.guaduabamboo.com/bamboo-genera.html>
Guiness World Records, Fastest Growing Plant. <http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records-3000/fastest-growing-plant/>
Janssen, J. J. A. 2000, INBAR Technical Report No. 20, Designing and Building with Bamboo. <http://www.fundeguadua.org/imagenes/DESARROLLOS%20TECNOLOGICOS/ARTICULOS%20Y%20PUBLICACIONES/INBAR_Technical_Report_No20.pdf>
Li, T., Development Roast, May 9, 2013, What Can Bamboo Do About CO2? <http://inesad.edu.bo/developmentroast/2013/05/what-can-bamboo-do-about-co2/>
Shell News and Media Release, April 1, 2012, Bamboo Makes Two Cars Stand Out. <http://www.shell.com/global/environment-society/ecomarathon/events/americas/media/2012/03312012-bamboo.html>
Streeter, A. K., treehugger.com, July 6, 2010, 10 Best Bamboo Bikes For Style and Performance. <http://www.treehugger.com/slideshows/cars/10-best-bamboo-bikes-for-style-and-performance/>