Trees and other plants are often looked at as important carbon sinks with the changing CO2 concentrations taking place today. However, many times these environments are cut down for human economic activity. There is, however, a new study on how one type of plant – not a tree – may benefit both people and the climate.
Bamboo as a source of carbon sequestering has been ignored by some studies, as the plant is not a species of tree (bamboo is a species of grass). New studies have shown that bamboo forests have similar sequestering effects to other major forests around the world. It is projected that in China, bamboo forests will store almost 40% more carbon within only 40 years (727 million tons in 2010 to 1,018 million tons in 2050).
Bamboo is a grass species (not a tree), but is often found in massive forests in places like China. The plant can be grown in many different climate zones and on multiple continents. This makes it very viable as a source for human-planted carbon sequestration, helped by the fact that bamboo can be used after only 3-6 years depending on the species and environmental conditions. Bamboo has been cut in places instead of tree species due to this growth speed. Bamboo harvesting can be increased by harvesting the plant as a perennial rather than clear-cutting, a process that also has less of an impact on the environment at large.
Bamboo has shown to be more resistant to climatic disturbances than trees. A strong cold snap in China wiped out large numbers of bamboo and Chinese fir, another fast-growing plant species. However, fir stands can take decades to fully recover from an event at this scale, while the bamboo grew back to a state similar to pre-disturbance in about three years.
In addition to planting solely for the purpose of carbon storage, bamboo also has great potential as an economic engine, especially for lower-income communities. Bamboo as a material source for construction, textiles, furniture and numerous other uses is often perceived as being weak. However, the material is comparatively favorable to other sources of timber. The industrial processing used to create bamboo products on an economic scale has very little environmental cost compared to other mass-produced materials (include toxicity and land use in addition to carbon emissions). This increases the viability of the bamboo being used widespread over multiple different countries.
The regenerative speed of bamboo means it can also be used as a source of energy (charcoal, cooking fuel, biogas and others). Charcoal is often used in poorer regions as a simple fuel source, but is often unsustainably generated by harvesting native trees. Bamboo has been successfully introduced and used in Ethiopia as an alternative charcoal source, taking pressure off of native trees and providing a more reliable source of energy. Bamboo burning produces fewer pollutants than petroleum or conventional wood.
Bamboo presents an exciting multi-use source for carbon sequestration, material resources and renewable energy, especially in poorer regions of the world. The plant presents a strong potential to be a major market demand in the future as other resources decrease.