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Bamboo: a 21st century material

News
27Oct

Bicycles, houses, pipes and gas – bamboo was a key strategic material emphasized at the Global Science, Technology and Innovation conference in Brussels.

24 October 2017 – Organised by a number of leading technological research institutes, the Global Science, Technology and Innovation conferences, ‘GSTIC’, are annual events that bring together people from science, tech and innovation communities around the world. This year, ‘Bamboo’ was one of six focus sessions. INBAR hosted a day of talks with leading experts to mark the event and showcase bamboo’s innovative potential to a new audience.

To attendees not familiar with its many impressive properties, bamboo may not seem like a key part of ‘science, technology and innovation’. In the morning, INBAR Director General Hans Friederich introduced the multiple uses for bamboo – from carbon storage and construction to bamboo bikes and forest restoration. This was followed by an impressive speech from Mr. Ye Ling of the Engineering Research Center for Bamboo Winding Composites. This company’s innovative bamboo winding technology is being trialled for use as everything from storm drainage pipes to high-speed rail compartments. Mr. Ye introduced the technology and its huge potential for use in infrastructure projects.

ERCBWC’s drainage pipes, made using bamboo winding composite material

Less ‘new’, but equally important, is bamboo’s use in construction. Hector Archilla, a specialist in bamboo architecture, spoke on behalf of INBAR’s Task Force to share experiences of bamboo’s use in building earthquake-resistant housing.

Bamboo can also be an important source of energy, as Vladimir Ratsimandresy explained. The National Coordinator for the programme PROSPERER in Madagascar, Vladimir discussed how bamboo charcoal and gasification technologies are being trialled in the country. Dr. Juha Anttila from biomass processing company Chempolis also discussed the advantages of making fuel from bamboo.

Pioneering bamboo gasification technology in Madagascar.

Bamboo’s many environmental services were also discussed. Dr Mei Ting from Zhejiang Africa and Forest University talked about bamboo’s importance for climate change mitigation – an important part of INBAR’s work. INBAR was also lucky to host Dr D.N. Tewari, who presented the results of his award-winning land restoration project with bamboo in Allahabad, India.

Bernice Dapaah is a familiar face at many international events. At this session, she introduced her Ghana-based bamboo bicycle business to a new audience, and shared that the business had become an important means for local income creation and women empowerment.

INBAR was also pleased to welcome Dr. Wang Yan, Minister Counselor from the Chinese mission to the European Commission. For Dr. Wang, bamboo is an important example of European-Chinese interaction: Europe is a primary importer of high-value, innovative bamboo goods, most of them made in China. Bamboo could be an important way to ‘green’ the Belt and Road Initiative, Dr. Wang suggested.

Bernice Dapaah introducing her bamboo bicycles at GSTIC

In the afternoon, a lively panel discussion was held with speakers including Peter Wehrheim from the European Commission; Mark Halle from the International Institute for Sustainable Development; Luc Bas, the Director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Europe Office; Jan E.G van Dam, a Senior Researcher in food and bio-based products at Wageningen University; and Mark Draeck from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. The conclusions were of relevance to everyone involved in the bamboo sector.

During discussion, Draeck highlighted South-South cooperation, while van Dam stressed the importance of public awareness and transparency in marketing bamboo. Bas suggested looking at trade agreements and import tariffs, and considering how accounting for emissions for imported products would positively affect bamboo’s consideration. Drawing attention to the increased use of aluminium in construction, a participant stressed the use of bamboo as a matter of urgency. Halle said that while we would not want a “bamboo bubble,” the bigger risk now is that the potential for bamboo will remain undervalued, meaning a missed opportunity to benefit livelihoods and landscapes.

Encouragingly, panelists wholeheartedly endorsed the idea of greater European involvement with bamboo producing countries in the Global South – a sentiment Dr. Wang echoed when she said that “Brussels is the heart of Europe, and we are looking forward to strengthening the cooperation between China and Europe!”

Following the session, Bernice Dapaah donated the bamboo bicycle she had brought to a Flemish PhD student in attendance.

For more information about INBAR’s project work around the world, visit our Global Programmes page.