Bamboo: an overlooked biomass resource?
Bamboo is the common term applied to a broad group (1250 species) of large woody grasses, ranging from 10 cm to 40 m in height. Already in everyday use by about 2.5 billion people, mostly for fiber and food within Asia, bamboo may have potential as a bioenergy or fiber crop for niche markets, although some reports of its high productivity seem to be exaggerated. Literature on bamboo productivity is scarce, with most reports coming from various parts of Asia. There is little evidence overall that bamboo is significantly more productive than many other candidate bioenergy crops, but it shares a number of desirable fuel characteristics with certain other bioenergy feedstocks, such as low ash content and alkali index. Its heating value is lower than many woody biomass feedstocks but higher than most agricultural residues, grasses and straws. Although non-fuel applications of bamboo biomass may be actually more profitable than energy recovery, there may also be potential for co-production of bioenergy together with other bamboo processing. A significant drawback is the difficulty of selective breeding, given the lack of knowledge of flowering physiology. Further research is also required on propagation techniques, establishment and stand management, and mechanized harvesting needs to be developed.