Owing to outstanding tensile strength, bamboo has been a popular construction material for several years. Today, replacing steel in reinforced concrete with bamboo (Bamboo Reinforced Concrete) is of high interest to many architects especially in countries that outsource structural steel. The sturdy grass plant is a sustainable and cost-efficient alternative for steel in reinforced concrete. Bamboo shows some of the same sustainability benefits offered by timber, a traditional plant-based building material. However, harvesting timber kills the plant that produced it, unlike bamboo whose root system remains intact. Hence, bamboo is a completely renewable resource that can be easily replenished by natural processes.

Bamboo Reinforced Concrete-Alternative to Steel Reinforced Concrete

Long before steel became a popular reinforcement material in structural concrete, bamboo remained a core component in the construction of buildings. Even today, you’ll see the use of bamboo in constructing houses, furniture, and carts in rural India. Most people tend to associate bamboo with weak structures. However, that is not true at all. Incorporating bamboo into reinforced concrete, otherwise known as Bamboo Reinforced Concrete, has proven to be an effective replacement material for steel when it comes to shoring up structural strength. Yes, bamboo is much stronger than steel in terms of its tensile strength (the resistance offered by a body to breaking or splitting under tensile forces). Studies show that while steel has a tensile strength of twenty-three thousand pounds per square inch, bamboo noticeably surpasses steel with a lead of about twenty-eight thousand pounds. 

Bamboo forest in Arashiyama

Alternative Materials: Polymer-bamboo Reinforced Concrete - Sheet1
Bamboo forest in Arashiyama_Bjorn Christian Torrissen

More about the Bamboo Plant

There are over four-ninety different species of bamboo plants growing across the United States and Canada. Some of these bamboo species also hold a record of being the fastest-growing plants. All parts of the bamboo plant can be used for a variety of purposes including construction, medicines, food, and deodorants. Bamboo can grow above three feet every day and takes only 3 to 5 years to reach its full maturity (The growth varies depending on the species). Another important fact about bamboo plants is that they release thirty percent more oxygen to the atmosphere compared to other plants, which alone emphasizes the importance of protecting and growing these plants. Apart from helping against air pollution and ozone depletion, this hardy plant also helps prevent soil erosion! Bamboo fibers are breathable and are used for clothing owing to their antibacterial and temperature regulating properties. Bamboo charcoal has excellent adsorption capacities and is hence used in manufacturing deodorants. Bamboo is also used in enhancing the taste of alcohol. These wondrous grass plants can grow in any condition and don’t depend on any fertilizers for their growth. The fallen leaves of the bamboo plant provide the essential nutrients needed for its growth.

Alternative Materials: Polymer-bamboo Reinforced Concrete - Sheet2
A Photograph of the Bamboo forest in Arashiyama_Basile Morin

Bamboo as a Building Material

Bamboo has been a building material for a long time, even before its tensile strength was studied. The production and use of structural steel in concrete are expensive, and the manufacturing of steel is environmentally hazardous causing severe atmospheric pollution. The bamboo plant, on the other hand, can be produced at very low costs and is largely eco-friendly. However, we cannot use bamboo to replace steel directly as the tensile strength parameter alone is not enough to evaluate its performance in RCC. Even though bamboo is found to be much stronger and a lot stiffer than other construction materials, the plant is prone to degradation in the presence of water. Long-term durability and shrinkage properties of Bamboo Reinforced Concrete are also factors to be studied. Extensive research is already underway to overcome these shortcomings and boost the existing properties of bamboo wood. Several studies are going on on the mechanical and physical properties of the Bamboo Reinforced Concrete and on finding the bamboo species that is most efficient as a building material.

Worldwide distribution of bamboos

Alternative Materials: Polymer-bamboo Reinforced Concrete - Sheet3
Worldwide distribution of bamboos_Wikimedia

Engineering with Bamboo

Bamboo is also known as the ‘poor man’s timber,’ and its uses in the field of structural engineering are numerous. Buildings that are “going green” are now growing bamboo on their campuses due to their rich oxygen emission capacity. Bamboo’s performance under tensile forces, the ability to resist compression, and high bending strength are some of its characteristics that make Bamboo Reinforced Concrete a promising building material and an important topic of research. Flooring, window panels, cabinets, and household items made from bamboo are more durable, much cheaper, and provide appealing aesthetics. Bamboo has been extensively used in large disaster relief projects including flood-resistant houses, housing for victims during earthquakes, and temporary accommodations for refugees

Apart from its potential to replace structural steel, research shows that bamboo can also be used to replace plastics used in construction!

Flood Resistant Bamboo Houses in Assam

Alternative Materials: Polymer-bamboo Reinforced Concrete - Sheet4
Flood Resistant Bamboo Houses in Assam_BetterIndia

Using Bamboo Reinforced Concrete for construction and other potential fields can significantly minimize our dependence on environmentally hazardous materials like steel, plastics, and carbon fiber. This, in turn, will shrink the emission of harmful greenhouse gasses in large amounts. Another significant merit of growing bamboo plants is that no part of the plant goes unused. Moreover, the low cost of bamboo production will cut down the overall cost of construction and will contribute towards ensuring that sturdy houses are affordable to everyone, lower costs of living, and a sustainable environment.

Author

Sowmya is an architectural journalist and writer. In this column, Sowmya takes you through stories on eco-architecture, biophilic design, and green buildings from across the globe.

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