25 October 2016
Versatile bamboo can serve as a green fuel. Photo: Tumblr
Versatile bamboo can serve as a green fuel. Photo: Tumblr

Bamboo a handy weapon against climate change

Spending time in my garden is always a pleasant experience — until I realize that it needs a trim.

In particular, the bamboo hedges we have require constant care, as there are a few shoots that sprout suddenly in as little as three days.

Then my relaxation turns into an unpleasant household chore, as I go pick up the ladder and the garden shears.

Bamboo, in particular, while consisting of famously wood-like stalks, is actually a fast-growing grass.

Certain types of bamboo can grow up to 90 centimetres in the span of 24 hours.

But my displeasure turns into acceptance when I realize the benefits that bamboo brings to us, especially in this age of climate change.

For example, as supertyphoons increase, the damage these storms bring increase with the wind speed cubed (raised to the third power).

Because bamboo is famously flexible, when used properly as a hedge, it can help absorb and prevent damage to homes from flying debris during high winds.

When well trimmed, it is also decorative and offers relief from the scorching afternoon sun.

It is up to the owner to decide how high the bamboo will be grown, as it can easily reach the height of a two-story house.

Not only that, but bamboo is also a fast-growing biomass that is suitable for waste-to-energy or biomass energy systems.

As everyone knows from science lessons about photosynthesis, sunlight and plant life help to convert carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into life-giving oxygen.

The carbon from CO2 goes into the plant and is responsible for its growth.

Here is one effective way to do carbon capture and sequestration, in front of our eyes every day and since the dawn of time.

This is why scientists classify biomass as a renewable energy resource – unlike fossilized petroleum carbon from the ground, because it takes only a few days or weeks to return the carbon released from burning biomass back into plant life form, unlike with fossil fuels, which take a very long time.

So in terms of carbon release, using biomass is considered carbon-neutral by scientists.

And it is better to use bamboo than trees – both contain woody biomass, but since bamboo is a grass, it grows and is replenished much faster.

Bamboo grows so fast that it becomes viable as a sustainable biomass waste-to-energy fuel source.

When pyrolyzed, or heated in a low-oxygen environment in certain waste-to-energy applications, a biomass like bamboo releases gases like hydrogen, mixed in the resulting syngas, which will be important for high-technology applications such as fuel cells and hydrogen cars.

Then there are of course other applications of bamboo, aside from making our gardens and parks beautiful, such as your favorite young bamboo shoots for dishes, material for chairs and furniture, handicrafts like baskets, household construction, special building materials — even bicycle frames.

In an emergency, if you need clean water to drink, you can chop open a bamboo and drink the fluid inside, much like one does with a coconut, and tie together several pieces to make a seaworthy raft.

So the next time you feel harassed about trimming your bamboo hedge, remember the multiple uses of this fast-growing grass.

Cut it some slack — it can come in handy someday, is very decorative and may even save us from the impact of climate change.

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Consultant on low-carbon technology and publisher of Asian Spectator technology blog

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