Sustainable Energy

After many centuries, bamboo still has a role to play in the construction sector

Key Points
  • Some types of bamboo have been used to produce scaffolding, bridges and even buildings.
  • One example of bamboo being used to build structures is a place called Green Village in Bali, Indonesia.
Bamboo and its role in the construction sector

A type of grass, bamboo has a number of uses. The shoots of some species, for instance, can be eaten by humans, while panda bears are known for consuming huge amounts of the stuff for sustenance.

In the built environment, some types of bamboo have been utilized to produce everything from scaffolding and bridges to entire buildings.

From Asia to South America, its use in this kind of setting dates back centuries, with several factors making it a favorable material, including strength and the fact that it can grow very quickly.

One example of bamboo being used to build things is a place called Green Village. Located on the island of Bali, Indonesia, the houses and villas there were built by IBUKU, an architecture and design company.

"In the forest, for a bamboo pole to mature it takes three to four years," Elora Hardy, IBUKU's founder and creative director, told CNBC's "Sustainable Energy."

"And, on top of that, it's growing within a clump that's just sending up a new generation of shoots every year for decades, so there's no replanting," she added. 

Referring to a house in the village, Hardy explained that, "the day that it was completed, it was made out of material none of which existed five or six years before."

According to its website, IBUKU uses a type of bamboo called Dendrocalamus asper, which can be found in Java and Bali. A chemical element called boron is used to treat the bamboo to ensure it can't be eaten by insects.

As concerns about the environment and sustainability grow, the use of more novel materials in the construction sector could become important in the years ahead.

A Scotland-based company called Kenoteq, for example, has developed an unfired brick produced from "90% recycled construction and demolition waste," while a house made from cork was placed on the shortlist for the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2019.

Looking to the future, Cristina Gamboa, CEO of the World Green Building Council, told CNBC's "Sustainable Energy" that buildings were "going to produce more energy than what they need and we're going to be able to store it and share energy between buildings."

To give an example of how buildings are already producing their own power, some office blocks and houses are installing solar photovoltaic panels on their rooftops to generate electricity using the light of the sun. 

When it comes to existing buildings and how to make them more efficient, Gamboa emphasized the importance of having information. "Most people do not know that if their buildings are not fit for purpose, they're losing money," she told CNBC.