Santa Clara University


Structural Bamboo: The Next Green Construction Material?

This photo shows raw bamboo that is cut into strips.
This photo shows raw bamboo that is cut into strips.

The use of bamboo material is nothing new. For centuries, bamboo poles have been used in Asia, and, more recently, strips of bamboo laminated together into solid material have been used for cabinetry, paneling, counter tops, and furniture—virtually any interior use where hardwood products are traditionally employed.

What is new is that civil engineering Professor Mark Aschheim and Mark Folgner BSCE '05 have taken the use of bamboo beyond the aesthetic, and have proven the effectiveness of this material as a structural load-bearing element. Looking for an economic alternative to cold-formed steel and timber construction for use in the United States and El Salvador, the pair began exploring the feasibility of using bamboo as I-Beams as Folgner's 2005 senior project. They found the beams they fabricated possessed excellent properties: high strength, light weight, ease of construction, and good resistance to fire and decay. All this from an inherently sustainable material that can be harvested every three to five years.

Recognizing the future potential of this material, WIRED magazine's NextFest featured the bamboo I-Beams at their September 2006 event held in New York City. This four-day exposition of innovation featured technologies and products that have the ability to change our world. Research on structural bamboo continues at SCU, focusing on property characterization, product refinement, and building-code acceptance, preparing for deployment of the beams in the Solar Decathlon house in 2007.