Bamboo produces 35 per cent more oxygen than other trees, is an effective carbon sink, and its biomass is a cheap and efficient fuel for power generation units.

Bamboo, due to its fast growing property, is emerging as a leading supplier of biomass for power generation units as well as a cash crop. Of late, its positive contribution to the ecology has also been realised. Besides helping the regreening of the degraded land, bamboo releases 35 per cent more oxygen than equivalent volume of other trees. Bamboo groves are also used for lowering the light intensity and protecting the residential premises from ultraviolet rays. It is said that a hectare of bamboo plantation can absorb 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air annually. Bamboo groves are also known to serve as windbreakers as well as acoustic barriers.

Versatility of bamboo in application has been known all through the history as it has been a source of livelihood for several communities, mainly in the north-eastern states of India. In Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, nearly 12 lakh people belonging to the Medara community are engaged in producing bamboo craft.

Bamboo is a member of the grass family which can grow up to a height of 65 to 90 ft. and has more tensile strength than steel. Bamboo is a fast growing plant, harvestable in two to four-year cycles. It is said to be superior to wood in physical and mechanical properties. India produces eight lakh cubic metres of plywood annually. If even a fourth of this is replaced with bamboo, it would result in saving 8,000 hectares of forests which would generate employment to the tune of 35 million man-days, particularly for rural, tribal and women folk and for in-house work.

Bamboo has also found a new use i.e., as an extremely rich source of biomass for supply to power generation companies. Since bamboo grows at a fast rate, often 18 inches in the span of 24 hours, power units look at bamboo growing farmers for supply of biomass. A noted name in the field is Growmore Biotech based at Hosur. Set up by cloning scientist N. Barathi, the company has cloned a specialised breed which it has named ‘Beema Bamboo’. According to Mr. Barathi, Growmore has so far supplied 20 lakh saplings of this variety to various farms in the North-East, Maharashtra and the four South Indian States. Beema Bamboo can yield five to eight tonnes of biomass an acre annually while the average yield for any Indian variety is 0.57 tonnes a year.

Energy plantation

Mr. Barathi terms the bamboo plantation as ‘energy plantation’ as it acts as a rich producer of oxygen and absorber of carbon dioxide. He says Beema Bamboo can produce 62 tonnes of oxygen per acre per year and absorbs 88 tonnes of carbon dioxide per acre per year. Growmore has helped Infosys campuses in planting thousands of bamboo saplings on 30 acres on their Sarjapur Road Campus as well as in campuses in Kochi, Hyderabad and Pune.

Mr. Barathi says an average Indian’s carbon footprint is of the order of 1,400 kg per year. “Going by this yardstick, any individual can become ‘carbon neutral’ by planting four saplings of bamboo and his/her progeny need not plant any more as the same plants provide continuous harvest year after year.”

Currently, power producing companies such as Shakthi Synergy, a 10 MW plant at Krishnagiri (in Tamil Nadu) and Pointech in Gadag subsist on bamboo biomass fuel to produce electricity. Hindustan Paper Corporation, a paper mill in Assam, uses the bamboo biomass for power generation through gasification process.

According to Madhu K.S., plantation manager at Biotherm Industries, Attibele, which maintains bamboo plantations on a 60-acre farm at Hosur and Attibele, bamboo attains full height—maximum of 65 ft.—in three years if fields are irrigated. In arid conditions this period may stretch to five years. An acre of land can be planted with 200 saplings and 60 bamboo plants can be expected to grow in a clump.

Sugarcane, which is also a source of biomass, fares poorly in comparison to bamboo. Bamboo can yield the same biomass in one acre that is available from seven acres of sugarcane field. While one megawatt power generation would require biomass from 1,500 acres of sugarcane field, merely 200 acres of bamboo can be sufficient to feed this much of power generation. Even the ash content for bamboo biomass is low at just one per cent whereas in case of sugarcane it is three per cent. Finally, the sugarcane has to be planted every two years while bamboo grows continuously on its own without any replanting.

Bamboo’s usefulness as staple food for elephants also enhances its ecological value. Non-availability of bamboo shoots in plentiful measure is said to be a major reason for pachyderms to stray into human habitations.

The author can be reached at maqsiraj@gmail.com

Keywords: bamboocarbon sink