Harnessing Bamboo For Sustainable Biomass Energy

May 26, 2023

With increasing global demand for renewable energy sources and concerns over environmental impact, identifying and utilizing sustainable options becomes crucial. Bioenergy, derived from renewable sources like bamboo, holds the potential for sustainable and low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels. Bamboo biomass presents a promising opportunity for bioenergy production.

Bamboo, a diverse group of evergreen perennial flowering plants making up the subfamily Bambusoideae of the grass family Poaceae, thrives in tropical to warm temperature environment. Some species of bamboo can reach tree-like heights of up to 15 to 20 meters with growth of us to 91cm per day and can be harvested within five to 12 years of reaching maturity.

“Bamboo is recognized as an important biomass resource on a global scale whereby bamboo biomass serves as a sustainable and renewable energy source due to its fast growth and high biomass productivity. Therefore, it can be used as a feedstock for biofuel and bioenergy production,” said Associate Professor Dr. Cheng Wan Hee from INTI International University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.

Bamboo has excellent qualities to become a sustainable source of biomass for renewable energy.

Together with a team of researchers from local and foreign universities along with local research centres, Dr. Cheng conducted a study on bamboo biomass as a viable source of energy. The findings were presented in a paper titled “Bamboo for Biomass Energy Production.”

According to Dr. Cheng, biomass energy is generated from plant derived materials and bamboo has the characteristics of a reliable source of biomass. Cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin are main components that must be present to be a source of biomass.

“Bamboo has a high lignocellulosic content, making it a high potential source of biomass,” he said.

Besides that, it is believed that bamboo has great fuel characteristics that can be harnessed to produce biofuels.

“Fuel quality is highly dependent on the raw material used. So, it is crucial to select feedstock with excellent fuel characteristics that are suitable for generating bioenergy,” explain Dr. Cheng, adding that fuel quality parameter such as ash content, fixed carbon, calorific value, volatile matter and moisture content will determine the fuel’s operational attributes and performance.

He said biomass from bamboo can be converted into bioenergy using two different methods namely thermochemical conversion and biochemical conversion.

The thermochemical technique involves using heat and pressure to transform bamboo biomass into energy, offering high productivity with a broad range of biomasses that can be converted into various products.

Meanwhile, biochemical conversion uses microorganisms to break down bamboo biomass to produce fuels and chemicals in the form of biogas, hydrogen, ethanol, butanol, acetone, as well as organic acids.

The paper published in the BioResources Journal also discussed the challenges associated with the use of bamboo for biomass energy production. One of the challenges identified is ensuring a sufficient supply of bamboo to meet the demand for biofuel production.

Associate Professor Dr Cheng Wan Hee believes that Malaysia has the potential to produce bamboo biomass which will reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

“Ensuring the availability of quality bamboo is essential for the successful implementation of bamboo biomass. Cultivating bamboo using micropropagation techniques is a solution to the issue,” Dr Cheng said, adding that the technique has become increasingly popular in recent years.

He said micropropagation enables the rapid production of bamboo while also allowing for a selection of high-yielding and disease resistant bamboo varieties which can improve productivity and reduce the cost of biofuel production.

Furthermore, propagation methods also significantly contribute to the achievement of various Sustainable Development Goals such as supporting the rehabilitation of degraded land, creating job opportunities, and improving the lives of local communities.

“Bamboo cultivation is a labour-intensive activity that can offer income, eliminate unemployment, and improve quality of life. Due its high demand as a renewable energy source, bamboo plantation has increased,” he added.

While it cannot be denied that bamboo is a plant that can be used to improve the environment and society by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving soil quality, and creating jobs, improper management of bamboo or any other agricultural activities can induce harmful impacts on the environment. Deforestation, water pollution, soil erosion, fire hazards, and monoculture are among the concerns that will negatively impact society.

“If bamboo plantations are carefully managed, they can be a sustainable and beneficial crop. Malaysia relies heavily on fossil fuels for electricity, which supported the country’s population growth and industrialization activity. However, research estimates suggest that these resources might deplete in 40 years,” he said.

Malaysia’s tropical rainforests make up 63.2 per cent of land and offers a large amount of renewable resources. Recognizing the potential of bamboo, Malaysia has established three national policies that emphasize the importance of developing the bamboo industry as a source of non-timber forest products. These policies aim to make use of underutilized or undeveloped land for agricultural activities, including bamboo plantations.

“By promoting the cultivation of bamboo, Malaysia can tap into its bioenergy potential while simultaneously harnessing non-timber forest resources,” he concluded.