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Present conditions and prospects for the development of the bamboo plywood industry in China

Current state of the Chinese bamboo plywood industry
Main uses of bamboo plywood
Problems in bamboo plywood production
Development prospects of China's bamboo plywood industry

Song Yan
Assistant Engineer
China National Forest Product Industry Corporation

With 40 bamboo genera and over 400 bamboo species, China leads the world in the number of bamboo varieties and area covered by them. China has about one-fourth of the world's area of bamboo and produces about one-third of the world's bamboo wood output. There are more than 7 million hectares of bamboo, of which over 4 million hectares are in bamboo plantations and 3 million are in high mountain clumps. The main bamboo species are monopodial, sympodial and mixed types, which are mainly distributed in 12 provinces and regions of southern China.

China's unique bamboo resources have created a rich and varied bamboo culture of long standing, and have formed a cornerstone for the development of the bamboo industry. The rapid development of the bamboo plywood industry in the past decade has aroused increased enthusiasm for the utilization of bamboo resources.

China's bamboo culture can be traced back to the times of the Yellow Emperor, when it was said that musical instruments made of bamboo were used. In the ancient books and records of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (907 to 206 BC) there are accounts of bamboo use. Today in people's daily lives, bamboo products such as toothpicks, smoking pipes, chopsticks, baskets, boats, furniture and houses, are visible almost everywhere. They play a vital role in the Chinese culture.

Current state of the Chinese bamboo plywood industry

China is relatively poor in forest resources. Its per capita steel production is also low. However, bamboo resources are relatively abundant, fast-growing and high yielding. It is of practical significance to develop the bamboo industry in order to use bamboo as a substitute for steel and timber. - The development of the bamboo industry also has far-reaching significance for the maintenance of the environment on which mankind relies for subsistence.

The bamboo plywood industry also offers social benefits. The raw material of bamboo plywood (bamboo mats) is supplied by forest-dwellers. A bamboo plywood mill with an annual production capacity of 5,000 cubic metros needs about 400 bamboo mats per day. Mats can be woven by women in their free time. The value of bamboo can be increased by one-third by such weaving. In addition to those weaving mats, another 200-300 people will be employed in the bamboo plywood manufacturing process.

In the past decade, breakthroughs have been made in the use of bamboo. As a new type of structural material, bamboo plywood is experiencing a boom in both its production and marketing. China's bamboo plywood production is nearly 200,000 cubic metres annually, indicating that the industry has become an important component of the forest products industry.

Bamboo plywood is widely used as interior boards in automobiles (e.g. by the First Auto-Making Block, the Dong Feng Auto-Making Block, and the Najing Auto-Making Block). About 100,000 vehicles annually are manufactured with interior boards made of bamboo plywood.

As a substitute for timber, steel and wooden plywood formwork, a new generation of bamboo plywood form work has emerged in the building industry. It features durability, high strength and rigidity, water and corrosion resistance, easy release, low cost, and great marketing potential.

Such bamboo products as carriage floorboards, container floorboards and packing boards have wide industrial use. Bamboo plywood is exported to Japan, the USA, Hong Kong and Taiwan. With favourable prospects for further development both at home and abroad, bamboo products will become one of the leading commodities for foreign exchange earnings in the forestry sector.

Main uses of bamboo plywood

Architectural cement form work

Bamboo formwork is a new generation of formwork succeeding steel and wooden plywood. It is incredibly popular in the construction industry because of its superior properties. It has been extensively used in many projects in over 15 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. These projects include Beijing Urban Square, Beijing Fuhua Mansion, Shenzhen Tian'an International Mansion, Guangzhou International Mansion, the Yangtze Bridge in Wuhan, the Capital Expressway, the Jingjiu Railway, and infrastructure construction projects in Zhuhai and Shenzhen. It has gained favourable comments from clients and has been exported to Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as to other countries and regions.

Floorboards of coaches and railway carriages

Bamboo plywood floorboards are used in the majority of coaches and railway carriages. The number of coaches and carriages manufactured with bamboo plywood flooring has reached nearly 10,000 annually. This reflects the fact that bamboo plywood has significant economic and ecological advantages over some traditional materials such as timber and steel.

Container floorboards

Bamboo plywood floorboards can also be used in shipping containers. Worldwide, about 500,000 cubic metres of wooden plywood (28mm thick) are used annually for containers. The wooden plywood for containers is supplied mainly from southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. In recent years, however, the call to conserve tropical rainforests has become more powerful and some southeast Asian countries have introduced limits on timber production. In addition, container floorboards require high quality hardwood logs. The current shortage of container floorboards therefore cannot be eliminated quickly. Since 1994, companies and research institutions in China and the International Container Survey Institution have made significant progress in developing bamboo container floorboards. Product batches are already in trial use.

Bamboo packing board

Bamboo packing board is a major product manufactured by many small-scale bamboo plywood plants in China. It is mainly used for packing mechanical and electronic equipment and materials. In recent years, the bamboo plywood industry has benefited from relaxed regulations concerning the use of bamboo for packing crates.

Problems in bamboo plywood production

Over the last 10 years, the bamboo plywood industry in China has begun to take shape. However, the problems that need to be solved urgently are as follows:

· The production capacity of bamboo plywood remains small. At present, the annual production capacity of bamboo plywood in many plants in China is about 5,000 cubic metres. This restricts the range of bamboo products and reduces economic efficiency.

· The technology being used is out of date and the equipment is obsolete. Compared with timber, bamboo wood has special properties which make its processing more difficult. Bamboo's disadvantages include its small diameter, thin wall, hollowness, and ease of cracking. Unfortunately, China has very few specialised and high performance bamboo processing plants, and this has hindered the expansion of production.

· The utilization ratio of bamboo is low, usually between 40 percent to 60 percent, except for those plants that can produce bamboo particle-board. Thus far, bamboo resources have not been efficiently used and the large quantity of waste has been burnt as fuel.

Development prospects of China's bamboo plywood industry

Given the increasing awareness of the importance of protecting the global environment, bamboo, as a fast-growing, high-yielding and sustainable natural resource will find favour. Bamboo plywood, a new type of structural material, is gaining a Unique advantage over timber and steel in utilization. Some prospects for bamboo plywood are indicated in the following paragraphs.

Cement formwork for construction

Used as a substitute for steel, bamboo plywood formwork has a number of advantages which can improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of cast-in-place concrete. Bamboo plywood does not rust, is strong, rigid (even when damp), lightweight, has a smooth surface with little adhesion, low heat conductivity, and low water absorption. Bamboo leaves a smooth concrete surface which does not need plastering.

Steel formwork can be re-used only 50 times, while bamboo plywood formwork can be reused 50 times on one side and then another 50 times on the other side.

Bamboo plywood formwork also uses fewer joints and reduces the time needed for assembly and disassembly. Since bamboo is lighter than steel, it needs only half the bracing that steel formwork requires. All parts of bamboo -plywood formwork can be transported and assembled by hand, thus improving work efficiency and reducing transport costs. Generally, a building floor can be completed one or two days ahead of the time required for other types of formwork.

By using bamboo plywood, about 48 kilogrammes of steel can be saved for each square, a saving of about 50 percent. Similarly, a cubic metre of bamboo plywood can replace about 27 cubic metres of timber. This can provide even greater savings of trees. Overall, one-third of the costs- can be saved by using bamboo formwork and half of the - labour and transportation charges, in addition to quicker completion times. Thus, bamboo formwork seems to have a positive future.

Floorboards of coaches and railway carriages and the automobile industry

Bamboo plywood floorboard in coaches, trucks and railway carriages feature wear and corrosion resistance, adaptation to different climates and environments, low cost and easy installation. They are ideal substitutes for timber or steel. As the Chinese automobile industry develops, there will be greater demand for bamboo plywood. There are also prospects in the international market.

Bamboo container floorboards

Compared with wood plywood, bamboo plywood has advantages of strength, good rigidity, wear and corrosion resistance and low cost. In recent years, China's container output has ranked second in the world. More than 1 00,000 - cubic metres of, container floorboards are needed annually.

When the second Asian-European continental bridge is built, container railway transport will increase greatly, as will the demand for container floorboards. Since few plywood plants can produce container floorboards, China is presently importing a large quantity and sometimes has difficulties regarding the continuity of supply. This confirms the urgent need to develop the bamboo container floorboard industry.

Bamboo packing board

Bamboo packing board is increasingly making up for shortages in packing material in areas where wood resources are scarce. Bamboo packing board will retain favourable prospects in both domestic and international markets.

Bamboo decorative sheet

Bamboo has a unique arid finely textured exterior. As the standard of living increases, this will get more attention and gain favour as a decoration in homes and in public places. This will lay a good foundation for a market in bamboo as a decorative sheet.


In summary, the bamboo plywood industry in China is a new and developing industry. It simultaneously confronts challenges and opportunities, difficulties and hopes China will continue to develop and improve bamboo resources and products with a; view toward contributing to the health of the world's ecology and to enhancing the country's development.

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