Bamboo: A flourishing industry, source of high value commodities

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Filipinos are all too familiar with bamboo. Aside from being abundant in almost every place, it is also used in a myriad ways from culinary to textile materials. With its strong yet flexible feature, bamboo is most famous for furniture and handicraft material.

Considered as the world’s tallest grass and scientifically known as Bambusa spp., bamboo is a type of perennial grass thriving in the countryside. According to a recent inventory, about 52, 000 hectares of land are planted with bamboo or an equivalent of 52 million poles maximum yield. Majority or 40 percent of the country’s bamboo production is used by the furniture and handicraft sector, 25 percent as housing and construction materials, 10 percent in the food industry and the rest for other uses.

Bamboo as high-value commodity

The government, realizing the huge potential of bamboo as a moneymaking industry, continues to work out initiatives on making bamboo a sustainable high value commodity. In fact, researchers from the Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI)-Department of Science and Technology (DOST), using local technologies and innovations, have designed and fabricated two equipment for the bamboo furniture industry.

The bamboo veneer lathe, designed by a group of researchers headed by Engr. Belen B. Bisana, can now produce bamboo veneers of varying thickness from 0.5 to 2 millimeters. This equipment is an improved version of the previous FPRDI designed bamboo veneering machine that can only produce 50-centimeter veneer.

According to Engr. Bisana, “The final prototype cuts the cooking time of bamboo culms in half compared with the previous machine.” In the new design, culms are “cooked” by steaming through the steam injected vessel.

The equipment was developed using locally available materials except for gear motors and frequent inverter.

“The machine is cheaper, simpler, space-saver, and sturdier in structure than the old veneering lathe,” she added.

Meanwhile, another team of FPRDI researchers designed a bamboo flattening equipment using steel rollers. With an output capacity of 100 square meters of flattened bamboo in an eight-hour period, the bamboo flattening machine was a project devised to modify the traditional method of flattening bamboo in making wood furniture.

According to Engr. Dante Pulmano, project leader of the flattening machine, “flattening of bamboo columns into planks will be a lot easier and less time consuming,” he added.

With these technologies, bamboo can be converted into high-value products which can be developed into exportable products such as tabletops, floor tiles, and other laminates.

Cheaper, eco friendly products

Bamboos grow rapidly and reach maturity in three to five years, a viable alternative to hardwood and traditional timber. This makes bamboo an important commodity to the furniture industry.

“Engineered bamboo products,” according to FPRDI’s Dr. Rico J.Cabangon, “are produced by binding together veneers, strands, particles, fibers, strips or slats of bamboo with a suitable adhesive to form a composite material designed to meet specific uses.”

“The products are also called ‘man-made bamboo’ or ‘manufactured bamboo’ since these are engineered to precise design specifications to meet client requirements, as well as relevant national and international standards,” he added.

FPRDI recently produced a prototype school desk using engineered bamboo. Production cost of these engineered bamboo school chair is pegged only at Php 808.oo. Other products include folding tables, and finger-jointed and laminated planks among others.

According to Cabangon, more often than not, engineered bamboo products are used in applications similar to engineered or solid wood products due to certain advantages.

More than its contribution to the economy, bamboo plays an important role in addressing climate change.

According to studies, a hectare of bamboo can sequester up to 12 tons of carbon dioxide every year. The Environmental Bamboo Foundation reported that bamboo produces 35 percent more oxygen compared to other trees “so it can play an important role in combating the greenhouse effect.”

In the Philippines, with perennial landslides caused deforestation and prolonged rain in the countryside, bamboo can also help in decreasing soil erosion due to its rapid growth and extensive root system.

These technologies were presented at a research colloquium conducted by the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technologies of the Department of Science and Technology as part of the Visayas Cluster Science and Technology Fair and Exhibits held in Tacloban City. (With reports from Allan Ace Aclan, S&T Media Service, STII))

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