Avia Collinder, Business Writer
Standards official Gladstone Rose said Monday that tests on Jamaican bamboo indicate that the plant can be used for energy production.
Charcoal from local bamboo - bambusa vulgaris - was produced in Glengoffe for the first time on October 6.
"The experiment was a remarkable success in quality and yield," said Rose, who is chairman of the Bamboo Industry Advisory Committee housed at the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ).
"A preliminary examination of the data showed surprisingly high yield of bamboo charcoal to bamboo culm used," he said on Monday, two weeks after the experiment.
The culm is the stem of the plant.
Bamboos are known as some of the fastest-growing plants in the world, because of a unique rhizome-dependent system. The plant, a part of the grass family, can grow as much as 100 centimetres in 24 hours, depending on soil quality and other factors.
Bambusa vulgaris is the specie of bamboo found in great abundance throughout Jamaica.
Rose, who also heads the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) unit at BSJ, is suggesting that instead of using timber, which depletes forests, that bamboo also be used for coal-burning.
Jamaica recently became the 38th member of INBAR, an intergovernmental organisation headquartered in China comprising countries that have bamboo or rattan resources in quantities that can be commercialised.
In the October 6 tests, bamboo splits were formed into a conical pile on top of old "duck ants nest material". Openings were left at the bottom of the pile to admit air, with a central shaft to serve as a vent.
A recent survey completed by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica claims that 6.1 per cent of all households, or 53,876, use charcoal as fuel for cooking.
Historically, the massive production of charcoal from timber was a major cause of deforestation, according to Rose.
bamboo is renewable
"However, bamboo is renewable and its use actually helps to prevent climate change," he said.
"Bamboo charcoal has a much higher absorbtivity than wood charcoal and can be used for a wide range of purification and absorption applications, such as purifying drinking water, in air filters, gas masks, mattresses and pillows, as a deodoriser, and for certain industrial purification uses."
It is not well known in Jamaican communities that the bambusa vulgaris can be converted to useful charcoal, the standards official said.
Instead, the plant is subject to 'slash and burn' for clearing land, irrespective of age, which Rose characterises as a "widespread wasteful practice".
"Using bamboo charcoal permits substitution of timber charcoal and, hence, reduces the pressure on timber forests," he told Wednesday Business.
The BSJ said bamboo of all ages makes good biomass and can be converted to charcoal. Still, it recommends that burning for charcoal be confined to plants that are less than two years old, or older than five years, saying the three to four-year-old plants are generally best for craft and industrial purposes.
In the Glengoffe experiment, 100 parts of bamboo yielded approximately 40 parts by weight of charcoal.
Rose said that those results indicate that the product has potential for electricity generation.
He also pointed to other tests captured in a new report called 'Electrical Valorization of Bamboo' that analyses bamboo-to-electricity technologies in Rwanda as the first official study verifying the use of bamboo biomass for energy production.
"Using bamboo to produce electricity provides a sustainable alternative to traditional wood charcoal use in developing countries, and thus has the potential to reduce the pressure on deforestation," he said.
The study suggests that gasification technology offers the most efficient means of producing electricity from bamboo for a 20-to-70-megawatt power plant, but the technology is not as stable as combustion and requires very qualified maintenance people.
BSJ said the main advantages of bamboo-charcoal technology for Jamaican communities is reduced dependence on timber resources and, hence, an increase in environmental protection and conservation; the promotion of rehabilitation of degraded forests and other waste lands through increased areas of bamboo plantations; increased employment opportunities in bamboo-growing for supply of raw materials for community endeavours as well as in sales and marketing.
Further, the BSJ noted, converting bamboo to charcoal is a simple process and can be done on a very small scale by individuals with minimal investment and training.