Scientists turn bamboo into concrete

Scientists in Switzerland have developed a construction material using bamboo. It promises to be a cheap, ecological alternative for construction in developing countries like Indonesia, where cities are growing rapidly.

Cities in developing and emerging countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are growing at a breakneck speed and require vast quantities of steel to meet the rising demand for new buildings. As steel isn’t produced domestically, it has to be imported – making the process neither ecological nor economical.

Scientists from the Swiss material sciences institute together with their colleagues at the ETH Zurich have now succeeded in developing an environmentally friendly alternative to steel by using bamboo. It has the tensile strength of steel and is especially hardly because it grows in tropical regions.

“We cut up the bamboo and stick it back together again,” explains Empa scientist Mateusz Wielopolski. The glue they use is a specially developed resin that makes the wood waterproof. It is also much cheaper than the resin available on the market because the researchers reduced the proportion of expensive resin currently on the market – such as those used to hold together airplane components – to a minimum and mixed it with vegetable oil from plant waste. The result: an affordable as well as sustainable resin.

As Empa writes, using bamboo as reinforcement opens up completely new possibilities in architecture. “As the material is six times lighter than steel, you can build much higher buildings with it,” says Wielopolski. It can even be used instead of carbon, glass or other wood fibres in composite materials.

The material will now undergo tests in the Empa research building NEST to see how weatherproof it is under real conditions. But before the researchers attempt to build skyscrapers out of bamboo, they plan on testing the material a little closer to the ground: decking and garden furniture.


Image credit: Thomas Johansen, flickr/Creative Commons


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