[Translation of the article ‘Bambus – das grüne Gold’, by Michael Radunski, in Technology Review‚ ‘TR Mondo’ section, March 2018, p.78]
Bamboo has been used by man since earliest times in many different ways. It is an indispensable part of Chinese culture – whether as a motif in paintings, as an ingredient in the kitchen, as a pipe in the drainage system or simply as a chopsticks.
Now, however, the plant is experiencing a real growth period. There are several reasons for this: On the one hand, targeted support through the government’s national bamboo plan. One fifth of the world’s bamboo production grows in China – and the country does not want to let this resource go unused. As well as this, new processing techniques have broadened the range of applications. They make the plant attractive for pipeline construction, for example.
The International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) in Beijing even sees bamboo on the way to “laying the foundation for China’s leadership in global environmental protection”. According to INBAR expert Wu Junqi, bamboo is the best and most sustainable alternative to wood, plastic or metal.
Perhaps this is too high praise. But bamboo actually has a good chance of becoming a bio-raw material of the future. It grows about a metre every day, making it one of the fastest growing plants. Nevertheless, it is surprisingly robust, requires little water, no fertiliser and no pesticides. In addition, it absorbs up to four times more carbon when growing than several other tree species. Since 2012, Chinese companies have been able to improve their carbon footprint by investing in the cultivation of bamboo. “Even after deforestation, processing and transport, the energy balance of bamboo is considered neutral,” says Even Pay, agronomist at the Beijing think tank China Policy.
The application possibilities are manifold: In cuisine, bamboo is processed into beverages, among other things. Thanks to the combination of stability and elasticity, the material is often used on China’s huge construction sites as a scaffold. More and more often it is also used for facilities or as a floor covering. “Since massive apartments are currently being built in China, bamboo has immense growth potential here,” says agrarian expert Pay.
The market is growing rapidly. In the five years between 2011 and 2016 alone, national bamboo production has more than doubled: in 2011, sales amounted to USD 15.4 billion equivalent, and in 2016 they reached USD 32.5 billion. China is leading the USD 60 billion market in bamboo.
For agricultural expert Pay, the plant is not least a good means of combating poverty. Bamboo grows mainly in the poor regions of southern China, such as in Guizhou Province, where farmers receive free seed and other subsidies for bamboo cultivation. In the city of Chishui alone, 30,000 farmers are now cultivating bamboo, and hundreds of companies have been set up for further processing, resulting in around 10,000 new jobs in the bamboo sector over the past few years.