Let’s Talk About the Future of Bamboo

May 24, 2012
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There’s no question that bamboo is a star in the sustainability arena. That’s because it grows very quickly -- some bamboo can grow up to two feet per day, and when you cut it down new shoots grow back again almost immediately from its root system. All you have to do is sit on the porch.

We’re all familiar with bamboo flooring. One of the pioneers of bamboo in the U.S. was Teregren, which was founded by David and Ann Knight. In 1994, when the Knights launched Teregren, they were some of the early movers and shakers not only in helping to establish this new category of flooring in the U.S., but as authentic environmentalists observing sound sustainability practices from the beginning. Now with 18 years of success under their belts and a multitude of accolades, the Knights and company are moving on and aiming to take bamboo to the next level here in the U.S.

This next level for the Knights means establishing a new company, called Resource Fiber, and concentrating not only on cultivating bamboo here in the U.S. as a domestic source of supply but also developing new applications, new products and new markets for it.

Bamboo grows naturally in several areas around the world. Here in the U.S. there are currently more that 200 products being marketed. These products range from a variety of textile products including clothing and sheets as well as utensils, countertops, furniture and a lot more. Most of the bamboo used in these products as well as in floor coverings comes from China, where bamboo represents a $10 to $15 billion industry.

The potential for products that can be made from bamboo appears to be massive. It can be used as a raw material when converted into polymer form and extruded or formed into a wide variety of products. It also has high energy value, so it can even be made to produce ethanol.

The Knight’s new operation in Alabama, which is now in the design stage, would not only grow a domestic supply for their bamboo flooring but for a host of applications, many of which are yet to be discovered. It will also be the site of a manufacturing facility, making a variety of products from bamboo and also serve as an educational and research institution. The operation will have an educational conference center and a commercial-scale nursery to propagate bamboo plantlets. Working with universities in Alabama, the operation is working on developing curricula to develop best agricultural practices and engineering know-how to fashion finished products from this material.

We’re not talking about a small project here. As we write this, agencies from the federal government and the state of Alabama are involved, and it promises to be a game-changer at some point in the future.

The really impressive part of this entire undertaking to me is that, in an environment where it’s hard to tell real green in the marketplace, someone out there is not only upholding the principles of sustainability and built a profitable enterprise around it, but are upping the ante. In developing many new applications for bamboo, this project could potentially reducing the use of food products in biochemical conversion, and creates a new industry and produces new jobs in a section of the country that can really use it. This is one heck of an undertaking for a floor covering company and we tip our hats to the Knights and all the people involved in this very exciting venture. 

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