Monday, May 19, 2008

Abra's bamboo jeep

Chris Adriatico's bamboo jeep. Since 1992...

Breakthrough Bamboo

In recent times, designers, engineers, and social entrepreneurs have shown the versatility of bamboo in a diverse range of uses and items. It is now used as a component material in car parts, computer equipment, musical instruments, as a building and even bridge construction material, ecosystem rehabilitation, tourist site, pulp and paper production, furniture, handicrafts, food, medicinal purposes, and for tools, among others. As Michael Block of Green Living Tips wrote, you can eat, wear, and build with bamboo. The Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST) notes that Thomas Edison supposedly used a carbonized bamboo filament in his experiments in developing the light bulb. Alexander Graham Bell also used bamboo for his first phonograph needle. Patricia Mayville-Cox calls it the new cotton.

Interest is high because of bamboo’s characteristics. It is a grass of the family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, and tribe Bambuseae. Bamboo has around 92 genera and at least 1,000 species. It is present practically all over the world. In the Philippines, where it is generally called “kawayan,” there are 62 bamboo species grown, 21 species of which are endemic to the country. Ten are commercially-important species. Bamboo is present and/or grown in an area covering an estimated 39,200 to 52,700 ha. (Rojo 1999). Thus, bamboo is a renewable resource, grows fast, is durable, has natural beauty, is easy to maintain, and has many commercial applications including as a replacement of wood. It captures carbon dioxide. It is a green material. It promotes green technology and innovation.

Bamboo computers

Dell recently came out with an eco-computer in bamboo casing. To be released later this year, Dell says it will be 81% smaller than current desktops and will use 70% less power. ASUS also debuted its bamboo line of laptops and computer peripherals at CeBIT in Germany. Apparently, according to EcoGeek, there is a market for bamboo and wood framed computer and electronic equipment.

Bamboo bridges

Bamboo has a long history in construction. It is used as scaffolding and panels for concrete casting. China recently opened its fist bridge that could be used by trucks. A 10 meter, eight-ton capacity bridge opened to traffic last December 12, 2007 in Leiyang, Hunan Province. Designed by Professor Yan Xiao at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, the Leiyang bridge has significant implications on structural bamboo and pedestrian crossings and bridges in bamboo-rich developing countries.

It is also complements earthquake architecture. Bamboo structures of the National Bamboo Project in Limon, Costa Rica survived the devastating earthquake of 1992. Architect Michael McDonough is building a demonstration 33-meter bamboo bridge in a temperate redwood rainforest near Mendocino, California. The objective is to build on the experimental models developed in the 1960s in the United States by Buckminster Fuller and Robert LeRicolais. The ultimate goal is to demonstrate bamboo’s structural and aesthetic capabilities.

Bamboo vehicles

Bamboo is a viable material for transportation. In Cambodia, people exasperated with the woeful rail service, built their own bamboo train that reaches speeds of 40km/h (25mph). In Africa, the Design for Development Society is spearheading the design and development of emergency medical transportation devices (EMTD). Using the criteria of site specific materials, designs, and systems; the organization has identified bamboo has a key material. Hence, they are looking at designing, producing, and piloting five bamboo ambulances.

Bamboo bikes

For me personally, there are exciting developments vis-à-vis bamboo and biking. In this era of permanent sky-high oil prices, biking is getting a second look as a healthy and cheap alternative vehicle. In recent years, innovative designers have taken to bamboo as the material for bike frames. Craig Calfee of Calfee Design has designed and tested a bamboo bike and concludes that they are just as good, if not better than the usual high-tech materials used. His high-performance bamboo bike frames sell in the$2500 range.

Calfee is not only a bike businessman, but someone who believes in the potential of the bike to help societies. He partnered up with the Earth Institute at Columbia University to develop a bamboo bike program in Ghana. The potential to scale up and replicate is significant.

Inspired by Calfee, Bruno Meres, an engineer and industrial designer based in Bratislava, Slovakia, designed his own bamboo bike. His innovation is a woven bamboo bike frame. After one year of intense use, the bike is in good shape. He also noted that bamboo makes the bike ride less jarring.


Bamboo bikes have a long history. The Veteran Cycle Club notes that in England, Patent No.8274 filed on April 26, 1894, was on a bamboo bike. In the London Stanley Show of 1894, bamboo bikes were a show sensation. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a company named London Stanley sold a bamboo bike model in 1898. Today, a complete do-it-yourself bamboo bike construction manual can be found at

Bamboo should be a leading material in the Philippines and Filipinos should be experts in bamboo application. Afterall, it is part and parcel of our culture, history, and environment. We’ve used it for housing, furniture, ritual, games, food, medicine, tools, etc. Heck, we even have one of the most spectacular bamboo organs in the world, the Las Piñas Bamboo organ.

Gerry Brioso referred us to the bamboo jeep in Bangued, Abra, where government worker Chris Adriatico built a bamboo jeep as early as 1992. Local officials also use a bamboo vehicle, seen below, in official activities to promote bamboo use in the province. Kitschy, but an attention getter.

Bamboo is high tech and green tech.

Bamboo is a sustainable business for Filipinos.

Additional information:

Master Plan for the Development of Bamboo as a Renewable and Sustainable Resource. 1997.

Rivera, Merlyn N. (N.D.) Philippine National Report on Bamboo and Rattan. Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), College, Laguna, Philippines.

Rojo, J. 1999. ‘Bamboo Resources of the Philippines’, In Proceedings of the First National Conference on Bamboo, Iloilo City, Philippines, 65-70.