Boasting more than one million hectares of bamboo, Fujian demonstrates this plant’s potential to help build a circular economy.
24 June 2019 – With its abundant rainfall and hilly topography, Fujian, China’s ‘mountain province’, is home to many varieties of bamboo. Most striking are its moso bamboo forests, which cover vast swathes of rolling hills.
In recent decades, improvements in transport infrastructure and a proactive bamboo reforestation scheme have transformed Fujian’s bamboo industry. The province now counts more than one million hectares of bamboo, and its remote rural areas are home to an increasing number of innovative, export-oriented bamboo companies.
For these reasons, Fujian’s capital Fuzhou was a fitting location to host the 2019 International Conference on Bamboo Applications. Organised by a number of partners, and with support from INBAR, the purpose of the conference was to highlight innovations across the bamboo industry chain: from research into bamboo varieties and properties, to modern processing technologies, and the possible uses for bamboo waste. The day-long conference was followed by a field trip to visit various bamboo enterprises in Fujian.
Fujian’s bamboo sector makes use of the entire plant: from fresh bamboo shoots, which are treated and packaged, to mature bamboo poles, which are processed into lumber or furniture. Even bamboo waste finds a use: companies repurpose leftover bamboo sawdust to create new products, or to burn as biomass energy. Over the course of the field trip, conference participants were shown a variety of companies, working along all parts of the bamboo value chain.
Within China, Fujian is well-known for its edible bamboo shoots. China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration estimates that the Jianou municipality alone produces over 150,000 tonnes of fresh edible bamboo shoots a year. Companies like Tiantian Food(天添食品) are at the forefront of the market, and use the latest technology from abroad to produce and sell preserved bamboo shoots, particularly to Japan. A common vegetable across many parts of Asia, Tiantian says that bamboo shoots are gaining more interest from other countries, including those in Europe.
Bamboo flooring and furniture are also becoming more important industries in Fujian, in part due to the advance of strong engineered bamboo composites and an increased international demand. Companies like Huayu Group (华宇集团) show the potential of the industry: the company produces 10 million metres squared of flooring every year, made from a combination of woven or sold carbonised bamboo. Their factory, based in rural Jianou, offers an important source of income for 500 locals. Meanwhile, companies like Fujian Shuangyi Bamboo and Wood Development (福建双羿竹木发展) have diversified into a range of bamboo products including furniture and household goods, for IKEA and other international suppliers. Importantly, working with larger firms requires companies like Fujian Shuangyi to meet rigorous sustainability standards: their working conditions adhere to international standards, and all of the 30,000 hectares of bamboo forest which supply their factory are FSC-certified.
More innovative industries are also taking off. In Jianou, Chaoyang Bamboo Caps Manufacture Ltd (朝阳竹编帽业) is producing hardhats made from woven bamboo. Bamboo hardhats have a similar weight and durability to their plastic equivalents, and all hats undergo rigorous tests in accordance with Chinese standards. According to the company’s manager, the selling point of bamboo hardhats is their superior ventilation: an important consideration for construction workers in hot climates. Chaoyang Bamboo Caps currently sells only within China, but their hats are used by Chinese construction workers all around the world. Within Fujian, the hats are a common sight at train stations, where they are worn by maintenance workers repairing tracks.
There are other equally remarkable opportunities to create value-added goods from bamboo. Based just outside the city of Sanming, Yuanfu Biomass Technology (缘福生物质科技) extracts lignin from bamboo. The lignin is sold onto companies for use in ceramics, where it acts as a binding agent, or in dyes, where it decreases viscosity and strengthens the colour. And at Fujian Zhixing Activated Carbon (福建芝星炭业股份), bamboo sawdust is converted into activated charcoal, which is sold abroad in a range of products for the food, medical and waste water industries, and in a variety of household products. The company produces 40,000 tonnes a year, but according to the management, demand is outstripping supply: they are looking for new offices, and to expand their production to 100,000 tonnes.
Fujian is only one of several ‘bamboo provinces’ of China which show the potential of this plant for rural income generation and industrial production.
The Third International Conference on Bamboo Applications was sponsored by the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation, Fuzhou University, the Sino-Europe Technology Promotion Centre, Wageningen University and the Fujian Association for Science and Technology, and it was co-organised by Fuzhou University, the Sino-Europe Food Valley Alliance, and a number of Fujian-based companies and associations.