For the past ten years, Santa Clara University students have been researched and applied bamboo into structural elements of home building. In a world struggling with deforestation and actively searching for sustainable and renewable resources, bamboo could be the future of the construction industries around the world. In their entry for the 2013 Solar Decathlon, these Santa Clara students have developed the Radiant House as their entry. The objective: to compete against over 20 schools from around the world to make a fully solar-powered home. This team from Santa Clara has applied bamboo into the structure, ceiling, walls, and floors.
The rounded shape of the bamboos and the hollow nature of the culms have been a popular style among the tropical nations of the world, but elsewhere, it has not been used in construction. These students are using a particular species of bamboo from Vietnam – the plant is smaller, (about one inch around instead of three) and the culm is solid instead of hollow. Because of the sustainable nature of bamboo, it is commonly featured in the Solar Decathlon, but this entry will be the first in which bamboo is fully used as a construction material.
Bamboo as a fully sustainable material, comes in many species, and can grow all over the world. The potential of this resource is far from known and it has not been used heavily in a nation as a construction material. India has used bamboo as a chief resource for paper. Tropical island nations have used it in some construction, but concrete and cement have dominated as a cheaper alternative. Bamboo textiles are a growing fad within the United States, although there is resistance from those that support cotton. Bamboo has been proposed as a nationwide rebuilding option for Haiti. However, the world has a long way to go in just exploring this resource, not to mention actually using it for its strengths.
Bamboo is fully sustainable and renewable as a resource for a few reasons. For textiles, it rivals cotton in that it requires no pesticides or herbicides during growth. Cotton, which is a favorite delicacy for insects, uses over 25% of the chemical pesticides and herbicides produced in the world. While it is only farmed on about 3% of the world’s farmlands, it still requires this insane amount of chemicals. Bamboo, however, requires no chemicals, because it has not insect predators. Bamboo requires only normal amounts of water to grow. Cotton – one of the thirstiest crops in the world – requires more than three times as much water. Bamboo, unlike trees, can be grown, harvested, and re-harvested in as little as 5 years. At this point, it can be continually harvested every other year (for some species). In terms of a traditional wood substitute, this provides amazing numbers for available resources.
Still, it is up to someone or some institution to clearly pave the way for bamboo to grow into the world economies. For textiles such as bamboo sheets, it is dramatically forging ahead. For its other uses, namely construction, we await further developments.