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Bamboo embraces bigger eco-friendly role

Updated: Jan 12, 2024 By Chai Hua in Zhaoqing HK EDITION Print
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Qingpi bamboo grows in Zhaoqing’s Guangning county. Also known as slender bamboo, the perennial plant that has been used to make furniture and handicrafts, is now applied by companies in Guangning in the electronics, automotive and fertilizer sectors. Provided to China Daily

Bamboo is widely known as the primary source of food for China's national treasure, the giant panda. But in Zhaoqing's Guangning county, it has been used extensively to make furniture and various types of handicraft for more than 2,000 years.

Bamboo's use took another big step forward recently, as it is now being processed into eco-friendly industrial raw materials to replace plastic products, steel and fertilizers.

The International Bamboo and Rattan Organization (INBAR) and Guangning's local government signed a strategic cooperation framework agreement in March on high-quality development of the bamboo industry. The accord aims to provide comprehensive technological support across the entire chain of the local bamboo business, including the cultivation of bamboo, bamboo processing and utilization, carbon sequestration in bamboo forests, construction of bamboo ecological stations, promotion of bamboo brands, and nurturing scientific and technological professionals in the bamboo sector.

So far, Guangning has attracted 23 key bamboo industry projects, with total investments reaching 3.92 billion yuan ($549.7 million).

In a letter to the INBAR in 2022, President Xi Jinping said the Chinese government and the organization have joined forces to implement the Global Development Initiative and jointly launched the Bamboo as a Substitute for Plastic Initiative to encourage countries to reduce plastic pollution, respond to climate change, and accelerate the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

China initiated a three-year action plan in November to tackle climate change and curb pollution by replacing plastic products with bamboo alternatives. Under the plan, the quality, variety, scale and profitability of bamboo substitutes will be further improved by 2025.

"Bamboos are typically fast-growing perennials that should be cut every three to five years. The more we cut them, the better they will grow," said Peng Zhihua, director of Guangning's Bamboo Industry Development Center, established in 2022.

Since the 1980s, factories in the county have been using bamboo to make chairs, baskets and fences, as well as utensils like toothpicks, chopsticks and skewers. However, many manufacturers engaged in the rough processing of bamboo have been facing hardships in their operations, such as low-added value and a lack of branding, forcing several of them out of business.

"We're devoted to upgrading the industry from low-value-added products to technology-driven applications," Peng said.

Guangning has the world's largest region for growing Qingpi bamboo, or bambusa textilis, also known as slender bamboo, with 52,000 hectares set aside for the purpose. Peng said such bamboo is thicker, of high tenacity, and has fewer nodes, making it suitable for use as composite fiber materials.

Panels and bricks made of bamboo powder and plastic composite materials are displayed at Guangdong Haipeng Bamboo Fiber New Material Technology in December. The company, in bamboo-rich Guangning county, uses fibers and powder from the sustainable plant to make construction components for indoor decorations and outdoor infrastructure. Chai Hua / China Daily

Extraordinary versatility

Guangdong Haipeng Bamboo Fiber New Material Technology, which was set up in 2019, has been extracting bamboo fibers and bamboo powder, and infusing them with plastic as composite materials. Company Chairman Xu Liming said that a variety of panels and bricks made of these materials can be used to replace plastic and steer for indoor decorations, as well as for outdoor construction purposes.

Compared with wooden materials, bamboo has stronger resistance against termites, with excellent ability to resist oxidation and corrosion, compared with steel. Besides, bamboo is more environmentally friendly and sustainable than plastic.

Xu said innovative bamboo materials are now widely used in tourism infrastructure. "More than half of our bamboo-plastic composite boards are exported to Europe and the US, and the volume of exports in 2023 was four times that of the previous year."

Another company, Yufeng, has developed bamboo fiber into a reinforcing material for electronic and automotive interior applications.

Tian Yiming, who founded the enterprise, said that the current price of coarse bamboo fiber ranges from 6,000 to 8,000 yuan per metric ton, while fine bamboo fiber, which can be spun into yarn to make clothing, is even more expensive - up to 50,000 yuan per ton. In contrast, the price of 1 ton of bamboo is only a little over 500 yuan. Tian said the bamboo business needs to be upgraded, as the raw bamboo material itself is low-value-added.

The bamboo fiber left from the processing of coarse to fine fibers is pressed into composite boards to create lightweight composite materials for electronic and automotive interior needs. Tian said they will deliver such materials to world-renowned mobile phone manufacturers next year, and are in discussions with several automotive companies.

He said he expects bamboo fiber composite materials to be an important lightweight material in the future automotive industry as they are not only environmentally friendly and lightweight, but also cheaper.

Guangdong Haipeng has developed a new fertilizer using bamboo vinegar that is destructed through distillation. "The inherent antibacterial and detoxifying properties of bamboo vinegar serve as the foundation for building a greener agricultural system through the use of environmentally friendly feed ingredients," Xu said.

Based on the company's experiments on rice breeding, the new fertilizer can help reduce usage of pesticides by 30 percent and increase output by 20 percent. Xu said the product has been applied to up to 3,000 hectares of cropland, and the aim is to quadruple the area this year.

The startup has also found that fermented bamboo fiber can replace one-third of the feed in the pig farming industry, and can alleviate intestinal and systemic inflammation.


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