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Bamboo Preservation Methods

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9th ThinkBamboo Podcast with Agus Sulistyo, Co-founder of iBamboo-Indonesia based in Bali

Today, we have a very special guest, Agus Sulistyo, Co-founder of iBamboo-Indonesia based in Bali. As you may already know, bamboo is an incredible plant with countless uses and benefits. It’s strong, sustainable, and has been a staple material in Asian countries for centuries. But did you know that bamboo is not indestructible? In fact, proper preservation is crucial for its longevity. In this episode, JJ interviews Agus to uncover the secrets of bamboo preservation firsthand. From pre harvesting to reducing sugar content and how to prevent insect attacks to leaching with and without using borax and boric acid treatment, and even the Boucheron method, we explore everything you need to know to keep your bamboo preserved for hundreds of years.

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See Video Podcast Interview

Video podcast interview with Agus Sulistyo, of iBamboo-Indonesia and JJ from ThinkBamboo.org

Video Quick Links

00:00 Discussion on bamboo preservation
01:14 Bamboo industry in Asia
02:18 Bamboo is becoming a relevant alternative to wood due to rising wood prices
03:16 Bamboo is a fast-growing and low-maintenance material
04:17 Bamboo preservation is crucial for its usability and marketability
05:25 Presenting a bamboo presentation methods
07:27 Preservation is important for the environment


Bamboo Preservation By Agus Sulistyo

Bamboo Preservation: Why It Matters

Bamboo is a fast-growing and renewable resource that can be used to create a wide range of products such as furniture, flooring, and even bicycles. Unlike hardwood trees, bamboo still grows and multiplying after being harvested, making it an environmentally sustainable alternative. However, bamboo preservation is critical to ensuring its long-term use, especially as wood replacement. When bamboo is not properly preserved, it can be prone to insect infestation, making it less durable, not beautiful and ultimately unusable.

Bamboo preservation is different from wood when viewed from its purpose. There have been several preservation methods that have been introduced, but here, Agus classifies these methods so that they are easy to understand, and in the end, they are done properly and still friendly to the environment. Fortunately, new preservation technologies have emerged, making it possible to preserve bamboo depending on the use-case.

3 Main Things to Prevent

There are three main things that must be prevented from nesting so that the end product of bamboo continues to function and be beautiful, namely:

Fungus is caused by Sugar, Oxygen and Moisture;

Insects are attracted by the food (Termite-Cellulose, Powder Post Beetle-Sugar).

The sugar discussed here is Glucose, a monosaccharide, a simplest form of sugar from which all carbohydrates (starch) are built. Glucose and Oxygen is a product of Photosynthesis which is made from Carbon dioxide, Water and synthesized by SunLight.

Treatment for fungus is to reduce Sugar content and make the moisture content of bamboo below 15%. We can avoid termites by avoiding the bamboo being touched by soil and other objects that have been exposed to termite. Therefore, the primary treating process during production is sugar reduction, if we avoid using insecticides.

We can do the treatment of bamboo from just before it is harvested until after the end product is made with some consequences of course. Additionally, protecting against moisture, humidity and infestation from insects such as termites is vital to preserve bamboo’s longevity.

With eco-friendly preservation methods, bamboo can be well preserved even for infrastructure and buildings projects. Therefore, if you plan on using bamboo in your next project, remember to preserve it carefully to ensure its longevity and sustainability.

Bamboo Treatment

Bamboo Treatment / Bamboo Bug Preventing methodologies by Augus Sulistyo from iBamboo
Bamboo Treatment / Bamboo Bug Preventing methodologies by Augus Sulistyo from iBamboo

Bamboo Preservation: Techniques and Methods

Bamboo is a versatile resource that has been used for centuries. However, bamboo is susceptible to damage from fungus, termites, and beetles. Therefore, bamboo preservation is crucial to ensure its longevity and usability.

Reducing Sugar

One key factor in bamboo preservation is reducing sugar mostly into max 3% (depends on bamboo species). We can start the process of reducing sugar just before the bamboo harvest is done. Harvesting mature bamboo after three seasons of growth is ideal, as it has a lower sugar content and is fastest ready to be harvested. Soil and climate also impact bamboo growth and sugar content.

Harvest before the sunrise

Harvesting bamboo before sunrise when there is no photosynthesis activity ensures minimum glucose content is made. During the dry season, harvesting bamboo is preferable compared to the rainy season.

Harvest in 3rd Quarter Moon Phase

Ancient wisdom suggests harvesting Bamboo when 1st and 3rd Quarter Moon Phase (due Neap Tide, Glucose located in lowest stalks parts) and submerging bamboo in a flowing river for natural dissolving (as a raft). Chemical methods like borax or bleaching agents can also be used for preservation. Every process that uses chemicals to dissolve sugar should have done in circulating flow and not in pooled solution, due dissolving is the reduction of viscosity from high to low, circulation will enhance it.

Leaching

“Leaching bamboo” is a traditional asian preservation method where bamboo is stored in water for a duration of 3 to 4 weeks. Leaching is more effective when done soon after harvesting because the vascular system of the bamboo is still open, allowing water to easily pass through it. When bamboo poles are soaked in water for a certain period, it removes some of the starch/glucose from the poles. This process is called “leaching.” By reducing the starch content in the poles, their durability increases due to no food for beetles.

Bleaching agents such as hydrogen peroxide are environmentally friendly but hazardous during processing. The gravity leaching process-VSD by Linda Garland is an alternative. Hot leaching is the fastest method, involving soaking bamboo in a solution with borax or salt and boiling it. The composition of chemical solution depends on bamboo species, age, soil types, harvest time and many other factors. So, it needs experience to get optimum results with the most effective chemical composition.

Borax and boric acid

To preserve bamboo, various methods are used including chemical treatment. Curing bamboo with borax and boric acid is a commonly used method. Borax (sodium borate) and boric acid are toxic to pests and act as a preservative (by reducing sugar content) and fire retardant for bamboo. The treatment involves dissolving the chemicals in hot water and soaking the bamboo with a flow solution for a few hours (boiled) and for several days (cool). After treatment, the bamboo becomes more durable and resistant to pests, moisture, and fire. Curing with borax and boric acid is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly preservation method.

Boucheron Method

Bamboo curing through the Boucheron method involves treating freshly harvested bamboo with a boron solution. The solution penetrates the bamboo and stabilizes it by binding the fibers together and preventing decay and insect damage. This process enhances the strength and durability of bamboo, making it an ideal building material. The Boucheron method involves immersing the bamboo in a boron solution for several days. The bamboo is then allowed to dry naturally before being treated again. This process is repeated until the desired level of boron absorption is achieved. The treated bamboo appears naturally blonde in color and is often preferred for construction. The Boucheron method is an effective and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional chemical treatments. It is also cost-effective as the boron solution used in the process is readily available and inexpensive.

It should be noted that the continuous use of a chemical solution of any method to reduce the sugar content in bamboo, will saturate the solution which in turn renders the solution ineffective, even making it a source of sugar.  When this happens and the solution is contaminated it will produce hydrogen sulfide gas that smells bad and make bamboo’s preserved color become brownish. Modifying sugar (such as Carbonization, caramelizing the sugar to make it bitter) can be an alternative to dissolving or removing it.

Crucial for construction

Bamboo preservation techniques are crucial for construction. Sugar resolving, carbonizing, and pre-harvesting are key techniques. Kiln Drying (by Process of reducing Moisture) & Coating bamboo can prevent bug lay they egg in surface of bamboo and selecting the right bamboo stalks and treating them properly is crucial. Bugs are attracted to sugar and cellulose in bamboo.

In conclusion, bamboo preservation is crucial for its longevity and usability. Several techniques and methods, such as reducing sugar and moisture content, hot leaching, and coating, can be used for bamboo preservation. Collaboration and knowledge sharing are also essential in the bamboo industry. With its versatility and eco-friendliness, bamboo is a topic of interest for a wider audience.