Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Bamboo and Technology

Notions of using bamboo as a building material are well known. For centuries bamboo has been used for constructing homes, making flooring and making thatching for roofs. When I first went to Thailand I spent several weeks living in a small bungalow on concrete stilts made mostly of bamboo. This was probably my earliest exposure to just how useful bamboo was.

Since the industrial revolution and the preference for using steel and concrete for building many developing countries still use bamboo to make scaffolding for larger construction projects. It is strong, easy to transport or make locally and most importantly bamboo is cheap.

Over the last 30 years or so, people have begun to worry more about indoor air quality as well as making homes more environmentally friendly. For primarily these two reasons bamboo flooring was introduced to a large worldwide market. Today, bamboo flooring is found in many homes and is an important sustainable flooring option. Sales of bamboo flooring have increased since the more durable and harder strand woven bamboo flooring has been available.

Another fairly well known bamboo technological innovation is the bamboo bicycle. Bamboo has a tensile strength of 52,000 pounds per square inch. This makes it more than strong enough to be used as the frame for a bicycle.

What is less well known is that Thomas Edison made his first lamp filament from carbonized bamboo. Another surprising bamboo fact is that Alexander Bell used a bamboo stylus for the first ever phonograph. Bamboo is hard enough and can be made into a fine enough point to be used to amplify sound. However, diamond was later found out by Bell to make a better stylus.

What these bamboo and technology facts help to illustrate is the diverse properties of the plant. It is strong, flexible and can be worked like wood. It can be compressed into strand woven bamboo. Since bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world it should be obvious that we need to incorporate it more into technology, especially as other natural resources become scarcer. Indeed, as the price for various natural resources rise bamboo will no doubt come to the mind of new scientific pioneers in the mold of Edison and Bell. 

Friday, 30 March 2012

Deforestation in Brazil in 2011 and forward

The forests are still being cut away for logging, land clearance and commercial farming. The future still looks gloomy for the enormous bio-resources that forests represent. Corruption, pollution, corporate greed and population growth all have their villainous parts to play in the tragedy that is the loss of the world’s forests. However, a few small positives can be drawn from last year (2011). One of those positives can be found by looking at Brazil. This note of optimism must be tempered with fear of all the good work being undone by unscrupulous money concerns.

The Brazilian government has continued its trend of slowing down the rate at which the Amazon is being cleared. In 2011 just over 6,000 square kilometers of rainforest was cleared. This is terrible, but represents a 75% reduction in forest clearance since 2004. Brazil has been dramatically slowing down deforestation since 2004. It is time that the media gave a little recognition to the efforts of the Brazilian authorities and ask how best the developed world can help to support the Brazilian effort.

A corollary success for Brazil has been to improve agricultural efficiency. The soy and cattle industry rather than just proceeding through slash-and-burn techniques has been forced to develop better methods of production. The resulting efficiency has made these sectors at last profitable (and less destructive).

However, Brazilian politics is at a fragile point. Revisions to the Forest Code that are in the Brazilian parliament threaten to undermine all the good work so far achieved. The monied interests behind deforestation have assassinated environmental activists and have lobbied parliament to make crucial changes to the law to allow more deforestation. Only the new President Dilma Rouseff can stop the eco-wrecking revisions through using the Presidential veto. The revisions to the Forest Code if they went through would result in more carbon being released into the atmosphere than the total carbon output for the whole world for a year.

The Brazilian public is behind Dilma and the environmental movement in the country. 19% voted for the Green candidate Marina Silva in the last election. Are the President and the Brazilian public any match for the big corporations?  We can all play our part in supporting the Brazilian rainforest. One of the things we can do is to buy more bamboo products as substitutes for hardwood products; not least we can buy strand woven bamboo flooring instead of hardwood flooring that comes from a rainforest.


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

How Strand Woven Bamboo Flooring is Made

Strand woven bamboo made in China

Strand woven bamboo flooring is usually made in China with moso bamboo. It is a bamboo type that grows very tall and is sometimes seen in Kung Fu movies. It is also a popular type of bamboo in Japan. The Japanese, sadly however, don't make strand woven bamboo flooring.

Process to make strand woven bamboo

Moso bamboo takes about 5 years to reach maturity. At which point the bamboo is harvested and separated into strands. Then  it is boiled to remove the sugars in the plant that attract termites.

After boiling, the bamboo culms along with foliage are subjected to heat and pressure. The fact that all the plant is used cuts out waste and thus makes strand woven bamboo more resource-efficient than horizontal bamboo or vertical bamboo flooring.

A low VOC bonding agent is added at the stage of heat and compression. The end process produces a hard plank of strand woven bamboo. Strand woven bamboo looks and feels like timber. It is then sent to a mill where it is cut into flooring planks.

Finished strand woven bamboo flooring

With strand woven bamboo flooring the growth rings are clearly visible because it the bamboo is compressed wide edge up. Blocks of strand woven bamboo are usually cut into 6 foot long planks. They are often in a tongue and groove style for easy installation. Several layers of hard coating are added to the flooring to make it extra hard.

Strand woven bamboo made from this process is very hard and has a high Janka Hardness Rating. It is a pale color with a grain and thus looks like a light hardwood.

Carbonized strand woven bamboo

Often the strand woven bamboo is subjected to further heating to remove more sugar. The result is that the sugar is caramelized and a richer and browner hue is achieved. This is called carbonized strand woven bamboo. Sometimes normal strand woven bamboo is combined with carbonized strand woven bamboo to make tiger stripe bamboo. This makes a stylish and striking flooring. The only problem with carbonized strand woven bamboo is that it lowers the hardness of the bamboo by up to 30%.

Environmental Issues with Strand Woven Bamboo Flooring

There is not much that you can write to criticize the earth friendly credentials of strand woven bamboo flooring. It helps to stop deforestation and bamboo is a great renewable resource.

The only 2 caveats with strand woven bamboo flooring are:

It is mostly made in China where there is very little over-sight of farming practices to make sure habitat is not lost and dangerous pesticides are not used. Moreover, fair trade agreements are virtually unheard of in the People's Republic.

Better than low VOC adhesive to make strand woven bamboo flooring would be if a zero VOC adhesive could be developed to bind the bamboo instead. The field of biomimicry has made big advances recently and surely more should be done to make a powerful adhesive copying nature and thus removing dangerous chemicals that off-gas in the home.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Bamboo in the Garden

Bamboo is a type of evergreen grass. It is the fastest growing plant in the world and it grows naturally just about everywhere. The only continents without indigenous species of bamboo are Europe and Antarctica. There are a number of uses for bamboo in the garden. Using bamboo and bamboo products in the garden is preferable to using hardwood products and plastic products because bamboo is environmentally friendly.  

There are over 1,000 varieties of bamboo plant to choose from for your garden. They usually come with guidance about what climatic zones they are suitable for. Bamboo can be divided into two basic groups - running and clumping. Running bamboo quickly spreads over a wide area and is good for creating shade and privacy in a garden. It can also be used to mark a border. Clumping bamboo grows in tight groups and looks great in a garden as an ornament. 

Bamboo does not drain the soil and can be grown organically. You can grow bamboo from plants and seeds. It is cheap to buy bamboo seeds on the internet.

Bamboo also makes good stakes and poles for growing food. The stakes are strong, flexible and weather resistant. Bamboo makes great fencing for a garden. It is cheaper and more eco-friendly than wooden fencing and it looks better than plastic fencing.

It is also possible to use bamboo charcoal as an organic fertilizer in the garden. Tokai University has done studies showing that bamboo charcoal improves crop yields and keeps soil PH levels steady and suitable for the growth of green tea and other crops.

Finally, outdoor bamboo shades are a brilliant way of making outdoor areas such as patios, verandas and balconies. They create privacy and shade and help to cut out harmful UV rays from the sun.

Monday, 13 December 2010

How Safe is Aluminum Oxide Finish?

Friedrich Klumpp Gmbh is a company that makes the best aluminum oxide finishes for flooring. It is not currently available to the DIY enthusiast wishing to finish their flooring by his or herself. Instead Klumpp aluminum oxide is applied to a wide range of hardwood and bamboo flooring at the Klumpp factory.

The question is whether this type of finish is safe. There are alternatives that use a water based solvent. These appear more environmentally friendly but many people complain that these water based finishes aren’t as hard and don’t protect the flooring as well in high traffic situations.

There is also a growing body of anecdotal evidence on the internet talking about the toxicity of aluminum oxide. Aluminum is a heavy metal and can build up like mercury in the body until it reaches levels that could cause medical problems.

However, the scientific community does not endorse the health risks of aluminum. Most notably research in the 1960s found a link between exposure to aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. However, since that early trial scientists have been unable to replicate the results of the original 1960s experiments and the speaks for the mainstream when it rejects the connection of aluminum with the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. To quote from

"Public health bodies sharing this conviction include the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Health Canada."

This would make sense because much of the Earth’s crust contains aluminum oxide. It is found in many products including sandpaper. As long as fine particles of aluminum oxide are not inhaled it is hard to see how aluminum oxide can be inimical to human health.

It must be noted, however, that science is an on-going process and that any scientific assertion is only based on current empirical evidence. New tests could result in new understanding about the long term effects of aluminum on human health.

For those people interested in buying a flooring finish containing aluminum oxide try ‘Trek Plus’ by Absolute Coatings or look for finishes made by Fuhr International.