Artisanal Bamboo Paper

Bamboo paper has excellent ink absorption and good toughness. Last year, I visited a modern pulp and paper factory in Guizhou, which was a high-tech industrial plant, but bamboo paper is also being produced by local artisans. Nancy Norton Tomasko has written an interesting article in 2010 about hand-made bamboo paper production, and she mentions that Fuyang in Hangzhou district in Zhejiang province, China, is the most famous place for traditional bamboo paper production in China.

INBAR produced a Transfer of Technology Model for manufacturing hand-made bamboo paper in 2001. This describes the process, and makes the case that producing bamboo paper is a relatively low-investment use of bamboo fibres. It could be done anywhere where there is healthy bamboo, and I could be an opportunity for local industry development in many INBAR Member States, as you need minimal infrastructure and capital investment.

I was in Hangzhou recently to participate in the award ceremony for the Most Beautiful Bamboo Village in Hangzhou. During the trip, I also paid a visit to the Hangzhou Fuyang Greater Yuan Zhu Paper company where they make paper by hand from bamboo fibres.

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I was told that bamboo paper manufacturing began in Fyyang during the Southern Song Dynasty, and has been passed down from generation to generation for more than a thousand years. The key is to use young bamboo culms, so the stems are still relatively soft. They are cut into pieces and soaked in a bath of lime water. I was told that the company used the culms of the current growing season – only a few months after they have reached maturity. These have not yet become hard and contain relatively small amounts of lignin.

The bundles of bamboo pieces are stacked side by side under water, and lime is added to accelerate the decomposing process. This particular company prides itself on the fact that no chemicals are used, and natural lime is added to reduce the PH in the bath, and to allow for the decomposing of the bamboo fibres.   If chemicals are used, the process may be faster, but the waste water is polluted. In the case of the Greater Yuan Zhu Paper company there is no chemical pollution, and the waste water is released into the nearby stream.

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Once the fibres are softened, the bundles are taken out of the water and drained. You can still see the individual bamboo culms, but the strength has been leached out of the culms, and the fibres are soft enough to be pulped. The bundles are washed, boiled and further broken down to produce raw bamboo fibres, which can then be processed further

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The breakdown of the fibres into mulch is done of the traditional way, by using a large mills stone. In historical times this must have been the work of donkeys, but now a simple machine operates the mill stone. I can imagine that in another other geographical context animal power could still be the way to move the mill stone for grinding the fibres into pulp.

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Once the fibres are pulped, and soaked further into smaller pieces, the solution is thick enough to make paper. This is done by pulling a screen through the water, which collects a thin film of bamboo fibres. Tomasko describes different ways of doing this, but the company that I visited dips the screen only once.   The thin films are stacked to form a pile of thin, fragile sheets, which are the basis for the traditional paper.

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The actual paper sheets are produced by drying the thin films of fibres on a heated sheet. This is professional work – Several members of our team tried their hand at it, and everyone ripped the sheets of fibres. You need to be trained and experienced to paste the thin sheets onto the heated panel and pull off the dried sheet of paper.

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The dried sheets are stacked and packaged to be put on the market.  I was told that this type of hand-made paper is sold to artists, museums and vocational training centres, mainly for use in calligraphy and professional drawing. This factory does not produce paper for thecomputer printer or for normal daily use: it provides a source of high-quality professional material. It may be a small high-value niche market, but what a wonderful use of bamboo fibres.

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A Stone Forest in a Bamboo Village

I was in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province recently. Hangzhou District covers not only the central city but also a number of districts and many villages. I was told by our friends in the Hangzhou Forest Academy that this is the area with most of the Moso bamboo in China – 164,000 hectares!

My main reason for my visit was to help award certificates to the ten “Most Beautiful Bamboo Villages” in Hangzhou. The competition had been organised by the Hangzhou Forest and Water Affairs Bureau, Hangzhou Culture, Radio and Television Group and Hangzhou Daily Group, in partnership with the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan -INBAR. The ceremony took place in the offices of the local TV station, and I was asked to say a few words on behalf of INBAR.

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It was touching to hear the emotional thank you speeches from some of the winners, and I was very happy to learn that the awards were not just decided by a panel of judges. The local people in Hangzhou had the opportunity to vote through social media, and they have been active supporters. Therefore, the lucky winners were recognized by their own peers, and this made it even more meaningful.

One of the villages that received an award was Shi Lin, which is the smallest town in China, with only some 5000 participants. The town has large bamboo resources, and we visited one of the plantations to see the big Moso culms. The village leader told us that nearly half the population depends on bamboo for its livelihood, while eco-tourism is another main form of economic development.

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Interestingly, there were a number of bent bamboo culms in the Moso plantation that we visited and when I enquired how this happened, I was told that this was a result of heavy snow fall last winter. It is difficult to imagine snow when the temperature is around 35o Celcius, but the 2015/2016 winter has been severe in this part of China. Judging from the number of damaged bamboo culms, the weight of the snow must have been considerable.

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The added excitement of my trip to Shi Lin was a visit to the local Stone Forest. Many years ago, I visited Shilin Stone Forest in Yunnan, and I was part of the committee that worked on the World Heritage nomination for this natural monument in southern China. I recall the discussions about the fact that this formation was rather unique, and I supported the registration of the Yunnan Stone Forest as a natural World Heritage Area. With reason:

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Therefore, I was intrigued to learn that there is a stone forest in Hangzhou, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to visit the site, which is called the Qiandao Lake Stone Forest. It is a most interesting geological and morphological phenomena, although much smaller than its namesake in Yunnan. There appears to be a relatively small limestone lens between other rocks, and the surface outcrop of this limestone bed has weathered into deep karst fissures. It is still relatively unknown to the public, and we were almost the only visitors.

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The limestone is eroded down to ten metres in some cases, creating narrow, deep trenches, and solution patters are obvious throughout. There rocks are badly weathered, and form all kinds of shapes, with the usual innovative names. There is a path that enables you to walk around, and this is tastefully constructed, without damage to any of the rocks, and without obvious concrete or other construction features.

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There is a cave in the area, which is a classic vadose stream passage of some ten, twelve metres high. You can traverse from the lower entrance where a stream emerges to the upper entrance, and a steep staircase allows you to climb out. I saw a good number of bats roosting on the ceiling, and there are a few Buddha statues in the lower entrance. I wonder if there are more such cave passages further along the cliff wall.

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Shilin village does not only qualify for one of the “Most Beautiful Bamboo Villages”, but it would also be a candidate for a beautiful karst village.

Bamboos in Cornwall? You bet!

I visited Trebah Gardens in Cornwall in South-West England, a sub-tropical paradise near Falmouth with a stunning coastal backdrop of the Helmford River.  It is one of the Great Gardens of Cornwall and rated among the 80 finest gardens in the world.

The garden has an interesting collection of bamboos and I therefore wanted to get some photos for the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR).  The bamboos in Trebah Garden are grouped together in a specially created maze of paths known as the Bamboozle which zig-zags alongside the small stream that eventually flows into Helford River. There are some 40 different species and cultivars to be found there.

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It surprised me to see so many bamboos in an English garden, but the micro-climate in this area is very gentle. The fairly narrow, steep valley runs north-south into Helford River, and rarely experiences frost. The steep slopes protect the plants from severe winds. It was unfortunately raining when I visited Trebah, but this clearly benefits the bamboos as well. They all look very healthy, and there were many new shoots. Bamboos shoots are a delicacy in China, and the local squirrels in Trebah Garden also like to take a bite out of new bamboo shoots. In order to avoid this, the shoots are protected with wire mesh.

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Most of the bamboos in Trebah Garden come from China, which is not surprising as the largest number of bamboo species are found there. But there are others in Trebah Garden as well, and I was taken by Thamnocalamus spathiflorus from the Himal Region, which is a clumping bamboo with relatively thin culms.

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The Garden has several Phyllostachys species, including a hybrid that was cultivated in Trebah Garden. It has beautiful thin yellow culms. There are also several nice stands of Phyllostachys aurea. Apparently, the English name is fishpole bamboo, so it was appropriate that the bamboos are planted around a small lake. For security reasons, they have positioned a life-ring next to the healthy bamboo clump, as you can see on the following photo.

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A different species from SW China is Fargesia robusta, with a tight, non-invasive clumping habit.  It is apparently one of the earliest bamboos to break soil in spring and the white culm sheaths contrast beautifully with the dark green canes to give what is often described as a chequerboard effect

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The common Moso bamboo from China, Phyllostachys edulis, is also very happy in Trebah Garden, and there is an information plaque about its incredible growth rate. In China, this species can grow up to one metre per day, and can reach heights of 30 metres, but the English climate does not provide for this. According to the information on the board, the growth rate in UK is up to 20cm per day and the maximum height is 6 metres. That is still a lot faster than any tree species that I know of!

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This was a nice visit to a beautiful garden and a very interesting discovery of healthy bamboos in the UK.  For more information about bamboos in the UK, you can contact the Bamboo Society of Great Britain .  They had a meeting in Trebah Gardens last May!

 

 

More Bamboo and Earthquakes – Ecuador!

My last post was about a bamboo-based earthquake-response in Nepal.  Unfortunately, I now have to write about Ecuador.

On April 16th 2016, Ecuador was hit by a massive earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale. Directly impacting 6 provinces located on the northern coastal area this disaster was responsible for claiming the lives of 660 people. Forcing 7,600 families or around 30,000 people into temporary shelters the earthquake also had a devastating effect on more than 560 schools and 7,000 other buildings. Destroying many roads, it led to the isolation of rural communities from aid.

Utilising its Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) located in Ecuador, INBAR swung into action.  Understanding the gravity of the situation, INBAR immediately deployed its in-country team and network of specialists in bamboo construction to support local partners learn how to incorporate bamboo into post-earthquake planning.

Preliminary reports state that most buildings using bamboo have either been able to withstand the impact or have only been partially damaged. International and local media outlets including New York Times, BBC, CNN, ABC, El Tiempo, El Comercio, El Universo, El Expreso, and El Telegrafo have reported on a number of cases that show the relative performance and strength of Bamboo.

Our local team sent the following to illustrate how bamboo buildings are still standing

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While these observations are encouraging, we need scientific knowledge to be able to state without hesitation that bamboo construction survives earthquakes.  With the support of local, regional and international partners, INBAR is now coordinating a technical evaluation of the impact the earthquake had on existing bamboo structures and resources. The report aims to inform authorities on how bamboo could be appropriately used in the reconstruction process.  The photo below shows bamboo engineers Louis Felipe Lopez and Jorge Moran from Colombia reviewing the state of a bamboo market in the affected area.

visiting the Ecuador earthquake area with experts Luis Felipe Lopez and Jorge Moran

In partnership with a number of collaborators, INBAR successfully organised workshops on bamboo reconstruction and regulations for safe homes in Quito and Manta. Based on their prior experience and knowledge in utilising bamboo for alleviating relief efforts in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru experts shared their observations with the participants. The event held on the 12th of May at Quito was attended by 70 people and organised with the support of Mesa Sectorial Bambu Ecuador and the Association of Provincial Governments of Ecuador (CONGOPE).  The attendees included people from the Ecuadorian Ministries of Housing, Industry and Productivity, and Agriculture, as well as representatives from provincial governments, universities, and volunteer organisations. The attendees of the event acknowledged the crucial need for Ecuador’s national building code to reinstate bamboo and allow earthquake reconstruction subsidies for bamboo houses. On the the 13th of May, another event was organised in Manta supported by the University Laica Eloy Alfaro of Manabi and was attended by 300 people. The attendees included a number of municipal and provincial government officials from Manta and Manabi who were directly responsible for reconstruction after the earthquake. The participants were determined to promote and encourage the usage of local materials and techniques for reconstruction using local material and techniques such as bamboo and bahareque walling systems. They further resolved to actively encourage the integration of bamboo in the national construction code and future housing policies.

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The Bamboo Training and Awareness-raising Seminar in Manta

 

An email address consultoriodebambu@gmail.com was created by INBAR to assist users in answering technical questions including the optimal utilisation of bamboo, information on providers, prices, and quality. So far, INBAR has answered more than 250 emails. The Virtual Bamboo Desk Support continues to get messages on bamboo usage and other related topics.  INBAR has also shared manuals and technical notes that offer information on optimal usage of bamboo and construction with over 600 different groups via emails, print copies and social media.

Collaborating with a number of national platforms, INBAR is working with the Ecuadorian Ministries of Housing, Industry and Productivity, Foreign Affairs, Environment, and Agriculture along with local government authorities to coordinate the reconstruction work.  We also participated in several coordination meetings organised by the National Bamboo Roundtable (platform that comprises 70 public and private organisations interested in bamboo in Ecuador). A formal resolution related to bamboo reconstruction was signed by 28 stakeholders in the month of April.

We are now looking at the future, and we have several projects in the pipeline to help build capacity for construction with bamboo.  This will involve the construction of demonstration houses, training of local builders and architects, updating the bamboo construction code and bamboo harvesting regulations.  We are also talking with the Government about the establishment of a Vocational Training Centre to train young people in bamboo-related employment opportunities.

All of this is coordinated by our Regional Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean in Quito, Ecuador.  The LAC Regional Office, established in Ecuador in 2001, represents the 10 INBAR Member States in the Region. The office supports projects to promote use of bamboo – improve value chain; strengthen local capacity; and create local policies that develop harvesting, construction and commercialisation. We also helped to develop national guidelines for bamboo construction in Peru and Colombia (see the picture below), that can now be used to support the activities in Ecuador.

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I hope we can help the people of Ecuador to re-build their lives and their houses!

 

Bamboo for Earthquake Reconstruction

I have just returned from Nepal where I attended the National Consultation Workshop on “Bamboo for Sustainable Post-Disaster Reconstruction in Nepal”. This is one of the activities in a CFC-funded project implemented by INBAR that aims to develop capacity for architects and builders in working with bamboo during the reconstruction after last year’s earthquake on 25 April.

The meeting was hosted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a fellow member of the Association of International Research and Development Centres for Agriculture (AIRCA).  We had a good turn-out with nearly 100 participants, and the meeting was opened by HE Agni Prasad Sapkota, Minister for Forests and Soil Conservation.

The presentations included recent experiences from two Nepali private sector companies: Himalayan Bamboo (www.himalayanbamboo.com) and abari (www.abari.org). They gave examples of building with bamboo, and stressed that a bamboo house does not have to look like a log cabin, but the final product can have the appearance of a “normal” residence. The following slide from Himalayan Bamboo makes the point:

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Nepal already includes bamboo in its national building code and during the past 15 years, INBAR and its Government focal point the Department of Forest Research and Survey have developed a number of bamboo building systems that meet national and international building standards.

One of the recent success stories is that the Ministry of Education has approved a new design for schools from ABARI that includes bamboo to produce the roof trusses. This could help Nepal rebuild many of the 7000 schools destroyed during the earthquake, which was one of the serious effects of the 2015 earthquake. Unicef estimates that nearly 1 million children have been affected as so many classrooms were damaged or destroyed. This recent agreement to use bamboo in those areas where it grows in abundance is a major step forward to resolve the shortage of teaching facilities.

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After the presentations we had a lively discussion with the audience, with many technical design questions, comments about supply and demand, interactions about government policies and building guidelines and more. One of the participants informed us that the Department of Civil Engineering of the University of Kathmandu will include bamboo in its teaching syllabus.

One of the key messages during this discussion is that bamboo is not a “silver bullet” solution for all reconstruction efforts, and most buildings made with bamboo will have other materials in the construction as well. This point was emphasised during the afternoon visit to the building that houses Madan Puraskar Pustkalaya; the largest archive of Nepali literature.

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The original building was badly damaged in the earthquake, and a decision was made to use bamboo as the main structural component in the new construction, and ABARI is taking care of the work. The main vertical supports of the building are made from round bamboo poles that are resting on metal blocks. The bamboo that is used is Bambusa Balcooa; the predominant species in Nepal .

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But, while the main structure is made from bamboo poles, the walls of the building are constructed from rammed earth. This is a process of building by adding layers of soil that re compacted under pressure, creating a solid wall that is as hard as concrete. Other walls will be made by covering wire mesh with concrete and lime.

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The most striking feature of the building is the roof structure, which is made from many intersection pieces of bamboo.  It looks amazing, and will be covered with normal roofing tiles.cropped-roof.jpg

One of the challenges of building with bamboo is how to fix two or more round poles together without cutting the poles. The solution promoted by ABARI is a system that comprises a small metal bar that is inserted across the bamboo poles, and a long screw that is attached to this metal bar and that protrudes beyond the end of the bamboo pole. The screw is then fastened in a metal bracket that holds several bamboo poles together. It is an innovative method that works well, and does not affect the strength of the bamboo poles.

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What intrigued me most was that apart from bamboo and rammed earth, the building also has some concrete beams to hold the first floor.

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This illustrates that a bamboo building does not have to be made of only bamboo, and ABARI stressed the point that a mix of building materials is the best solution. Their main recommendation is to make the roof trusses from bamboo in new construction, which is the best way to avoid future damage from earthquakes, as they bamboo poles will bend but not break!

 

Propping up Pagodas

My wife and I celebrated the start of the Chinese “Year of the Monkey” in Myanmar (Burma). Travelling from Beijing, you arrive in Yangon (formerly Rangoon, and the airline code is still RGN), and we decided to spend a day for sightseeing.

When you are in Yangon, you have to visit the famous Swedagon pagoda.

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The following day we proceeded to Bagan, the ancient capital with its hundreds of pagodas and temples, which was our main reason for the trip. What an unbelievable place.

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Dhammayazaka Pagoda

 

Apparently, real art experts and historians have complained about some of the recent reconstruction work, but for a novice, the many structures on the Bagan plane are amazing. The infrastructure in the area is still rudimentary, with only one or two tarmac main arteries, and most of the access to the many stupas and temples only by small sandy tracks. It therefore feels relatively unspoilt and authentic.

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Re-construction continues until today, and maybe this reflects on the necessity for general upkeep.  I was most interested to see bamboo being used for scaffolding. The area around Bagan is very dry and the natural vegetation seems to comprise only thorn bushes, and I did not see any living bamboo. But a large number of bamboo poles had been shipped in for construction work from other parts of the country.

The main restoration work that I saw was taking place on the façade of the Ananda temple, which is one of the larger temples in Bagan. It has four impressive Buddha statues inside, one on each compass direction.

The northern wing of the temple was being repaired, and bamboo scaffolding covered the walls and part of the roof. I was happy to see that the scaffolding was well constructed and sturdy.

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Some years ago, INBAR published guidelines on the erection of bamboo scaffolding.  These guidelines were based on research in Hong Kong, but they are applicable in all situations.  I was pleased to see that this construction in Myanmar follows some of the recommendations of the INBAR guidelines.

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The bamboo scaffolding appeared very solid, and clearly provides a good working platform for the stone-masons.  There was even a bamboo stair case to get to the upper levels.

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The tour of Ananda Temple was memorable, and it was interesting and rewarding to also include a bamboo aspect in my visit.

Bamboo in northern Thailand

I celebrated Christmas 2015 in Thailand. My wife and I visited good friends in Chiang Mai, and we subsequently spent some days further north in rural Thailand. It was a wonderful experience, with several visits to Thai temples, walks in the forest to waterfalls, a fabulous Christmas dinner in the Four Seasons Hotel in Chiang Mai, evening shopping in Chiang Rai night market, views over the mountains in Burma and the chance to eat many delicious meals.

One of my overwhelming memories of the trip is the abundance of bamboo clumps throughout the area.  Rungnapar Pattanavibool wrote in 1998 that there are 60 species of bamboos recorded in Thailand.  Thai clumping bamboo forests are so different from the Chinese Phyllostachys forests that I have visited in China. The density of bamboo culms is much higher in clumps, and most of the clumps are part of a mixed forest canopy.

My first encounter with bamboo during this trip was near a small temple Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai, not far from the zoo. After a steep walk we arrived at the temple complex, adjacent to a set of rapids in a small stream. There were several nice clumps of bamboo, but I am not sure of the species.

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After Christmas, we travelled north to Chiang Rai, where we stayed at “The Imperial”. This is a very pleasant hotel, with a nice garden on the bank of the Mae Ping. The island at the bottom of the hotel garden was full of green-and-yellow striped Bambusa vulgaris, and you could get from the bank to the island on a rickety bamboo bridge.  It is not the image I would like to promote, as there is so much more you can do with bamboo, apart from building simple emergency bridges, but it makes a pretty picture.

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The following day we travelled further north and west, through the landscape of the Chan community. There is bamboo everywhere along the road, and the Chan people are using bamboo for daily life use. Small stalls along the road sell bamboo baskets, brooms and other tools. Later we also found bamboo ladders for sale along the road.

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We stopped at a local village and saw how bamboo is used for fencing, for all kind of household tools, and for construction. Traditionally, houses are constructed by using bamboo strips to make the walls, although it seems that the main structure is often made from timber. This combination of wood and bamboo is what makes buildings that can withstand earthquakes or other natural disasters. INBAR has a lot of good experience in this area, especially in Latin America.

The houses we saw had very simple wall constructions. The bamboo is  split and the pieces are used as a panel of bamboo strips.  There does not appear to be any further enhancement.

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As I already stated, most of the bamboo in northern Thailand is part of the natural forest, and bamboo is mixed with timber tree species. In many cases you recognise the crown of bamboo trees from the distance, as they appear like plumes of feathery leaves. I assume there are different species, but is difficult to see from a distance. Although I had expected to see rattan as well, I did not notice any rattan in the forests that we travelled through.

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We stayed two nights in the Maekok River Village Resort in Mae Ai, which is a fabulous “chill-out” place with beautifully landscaped gardens. The owners, Bryan and Rosie Massingham, told us that the place is not very old, and it was created from nothing. One of the key activities of the resort is to link international school pupils from Chiang Mai or Bangkok with local school children in northern Thailand. This is a fantastic way of linking different groups for mutual benefit. They carry out joint projects in local villages and are using the resort as an education venue to teach outsiders about local culture. The resort has not used bamboo for construction, but there is bamboo in the gardens, and Bryan and Rosie are talking about bamboo in their practical classes.  The jetty in the Mae Kok River is also made from bamboo

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One day, Bryan suggested that we should visit a local waterfall, where there was natural bamboo forest. We found the place, and the bamboo: giant bamboo, or Dendrocalamus giganteus! The culms were up to 15cm thick, and 30 metres high or more. To say that these clumps looked “majestic” is an understatement!

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With all these bamboo resources, one might have expected a thriving bamboo industry in this part of Thailand, but that is not at all obvious. I saw lots of very simple uses, without much – if any – added value. The production value chains seem to stop at the most basic use of bamboo, mainly using the natural culm or slats that have been split from the culm by hand.

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There is no higher-value industrial use, despite the ample resources. Why are there no flooring companies, or pulp and paper mills, or modern furniture producers? This is an area which could be developed without too much effort. The “One Tambon One Product” philosophy could be a perfect way of promoting local bamboo development, but private investment may be needed to encourage some local communities to start production of high-value bamboo goods.

Thailand has just indicated that it wants to join INBAR as a Member State, and this may be one catalyst to identify opportunities for development. I hope that we can work with the Royal Forest Department of Thailand to identify and properly map the main bamboo resources, and then to help determine the best options for local and industrial green development with bamboo.

Happy New Year!