Bamboo has been used way before steel to reinforce structures. Even today, in underdeveloped countries, it is still used in building houses and other structures as a component of construction.
Still, most people have doubts about the strength of this material. They associate it with weak structures, but that is not the case at all.
How bamboo outshines steel?
Believe it or not, bamboo is stronger than steel regarding its tensile strength. Steel has a tensile strength of 23,000 pounds per square inch.
But bamboo surpasses steel with a noticeable lead at 28,000 pounds. Probably noticed the word tensile strength in the mix?
That is because when we consider the strength of a material, there are some variables to keep in mind. The tensile strength can be defined as the resistance offered by an objecting to breaking or splitting under tension.
And in this case, definitely yes, bamboo is stronger than steel, as it has a tightly packed molecular structure compared to steel.
The amazing nature of bamboo
What’s great about bamboo is the fact that we can utilize all its parts for a variety of purposes ranging from construction to deodorants and medicines.
The bamboo plants can grow above 3 feet in a day, and within 3 to 5 years it can reach full maturity, depending on the species.
One not so famous fact about bamboo is that they release 30% more oxygen to the atmosphere compared to other plants, which in itself alone is a good enough reason to grow these, especially when our world is facing increased air pollution and ozone depletion. The plant also helps prevent soil erosion.
Bamboo plants are used in a variety of applications;
- Its wood is used in the construction of buildings, furniture, bicycle frames, etc.;
- Bamboo fibers are breathable and are used for clothing because of its antibacterial and temperature properties;
- The bamboo charcoal is an excellent deodorant due to its absorbability;
- Parts of bamboo is used in foods and medicines;
- Bamboo also makes alcohol taste better.
Bamboo can grow anywhere and don’t need fertilizers for their growth. The fallen leaves of the plant provide the essential nutrients needed.
Bamboo as an alternative to steel
Bamboo has a long story in the construction field, even before it was known about its tensile strength. People used it to build houses, furniture, fences, etc.
Our modern-day researchers and engineers are looking forward to replacing steel with bamboo due to its tensile attributes.
Using steel in concrete is costly, and steel production has a lot of drawbacks like high costs, atmospheric pollution, and environmental degradation. Meanwhile, the bamboo can be produced at very low costs and has various environmental benefits.
But even though bamboo is found to be stronger and stiffer than other construction materials, we cannot use it to replace steel directly as the tensile strength alone is not enough.
The argument for this is the fact that the plant is prone to attack by insects and can degrade in the presence of water. Long-term durability and shrinkage are also factors to take into consideration.
Extensive research is already undergoing to eliminate all these drawbacks and boost the existing properties of bamboo usage. These studies focus on the mechanical and physical attributes of the plant and on finding the species that are most useful.
- The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich is developing a bamboo composite called the BambooTECH, which they believe can replace steel with its strength, high versatility, and durability.
- MIT scientists and architects have found the bamboo wood to be denser and stronger than softwoods like spruce, fir, and pine. They are trying to exploit the properties of bamboo to develop it into a better construction material, which can then be used to build more resilient buildings.
Engineering using bamboo: What the future has in store for us!
The use of bamboo, also known as the ‘poor man’s timber,’ in the field of engineering is also widely spread. Environmental organizations are promoting bamboo due to its variety of excellent qualities and capacity on oxygen emission.
The high tensile strength of bamboo, its ability to withstand compression, and bending property makes it a very promising material in the construction field. Designers see bamboo as an alternative to lumber.
Bamboo wooden panels offer a natural aesthetic look and finish. Flooring, cabinets and household items made from bamboo last longer and are less costly.
When researchers weaved bamboo with epoxy, they ended up with a composite that is stronger than carbon fiber. This gives us hope that one day, bamboo can be used to create an alternative to carbon fiber.
The greatest of all advantages is that it is 100 times cheaper compared to carbon fiber.
The low cost, wide availability and strength of the bamboo have made it possible to use this plant in the construction of shelters and large disaster relief projects.
Some of the examples are:
- Flood resistant houses in Vietnam
- Housing for victims of the earthquake in Nepal
- Temporary accommodation in Thailand for Burmese refugees
Besides its potential to replace steel, researchers believe that bamboo can also be used to replace plastic pipes used in construction.