Singapore’s Future Cities Laboratory is working to tap into the potential of bamboo as an alternative to steel for reinforced concrete applications in developing countries.

Currently, steel-reinforced concrete is the most common building material in the world, and developing countries use close to 90 per cent of the cement and 80 per cent of the steel consumed by the global construction sector.  However, few developing countries actually produce their own steel or cement and are thus forced into exploitative relationships with sellers in the developed world.

The Future Cities Laboratory believes that the social, economic, and material benefits of bamboo combined with its high-tensile strength could make a composite version of it the ideal replacement for steel in reinforced concrete applications.

The key ingredient is the very light but tension-resistant fibre in the bamboo culm which is able to bend in extreme ways without breaking and is superior in its ability to withstand tensile forces, even to reinforcement steel.

^ Splitting the raw material at AFCL Singapore

< A tensile test of advanced fibre composite material. Images: Future Cities.

Bamboo is also a highly renewable and eco-friendly material, grows much faster than wood, is usually available in great quantities, and is easy to obtain.

It is also known for its unrivalled capacity to capture carbon and could play an important role in reducing emissions.

A team of young researchers is now exploring new types of composite bamboo material by extracting the tension-resistant fibre and transforming it into a manageable industrial product so that it can be introduced as a viable building material and an alternative to steel and timber.

The Laboratory says Bamboo composite material can be produced in any of the familiar shapes and forms in which steel and timber are produced, and can be used to build wall structures for houses or any other buildings.

They also say that it will be used in reinforcement systems in concrete or beams for ceilings and roof structures because of the material’s tensile strength.