While driving through Accra recently, I saw dozens of building construction going up in the city centre. I could not help but notice how dependent we have become on steel and concrete for building. Even the scaffolding used for construction was all made of steel. I found myself wondering if an alternative to steel exists. I therefore decided to do a little research into that and here are a few facts I gathered:
Did you know that developing countries like Ghana have the highest demand for Steel reinforced concrete? According to Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore, developing countries use close to 90 per cent of the cement and 80 per cent of the steel consumed by the global construction sector. However, such countries often do not have the means to produce the steel to meet that demand. Out of 54 African nations, for instance, only two are producing steel (South Africa and Egypt). This puts developing countries at the mercy of a global market dominated by developed countries. Could there be an alternative that could rescue us from this exploitative relationship with the developed world?
Bamboo as an alternative
Could bamboo really replace steel reinforcement?
Bamboo has potential in the future to become an ideal replacement in places where steel cannot easily be produced. Research suggests that bamboo might have some advantages over steel which could make it a good alternative for construction. According to scientists, Bamboo has greater tensil strength than steel.Ultimate tensile strength is measured by the maximum stress that a material can withstand while being stretched or pulled before breaking.
Below are some more facts about bamboo:
- It is the fastest growing plant in the world, with recorded growth rates of up to one meter per day for some species.
- It has existed for hundreds of years in Asia, Latin America and parts of Africa (including Ghana), all of which have different climate. Evidence that it is very resilient.
- It is highly versatile and thrives in the poorest of soils.
- It is environmentally friendly
- It is cheaper than steel because it is locally sourced and grows rapidly
That being the case, you may be wondering why a country like Ghana, which has an abundance of bamboo, is yet to find a way to utilize it to our advantage? Well, ironically, many of the countries that would benefit from bamboo reinforcement also lack the resources to develop it as a viable alternative to the steel on which they currently rely.
Besides, bamboo has its own limitations.
Contraction and expansion is one such limitation, caused by both temperature changes and water absorption. This grass is also susceptible to structural weakness caused by fungus and simple biodegradation.
From the look of things, the advantages far outnumber the disadvantages. Additionally, when well treated, bamboo is protected from above mentioned limitations, albeit at a cost (monetary).
If these demerits are well mitigated, this could ‘change the game’ in construction. We could reduce import fees on construction costs considerably, thereby providing affordable housing that is really affordable.
Written by: Daphne Amarkai Quayson
Sales & Marketing Officer, Emerald properties
Credits: Africa Renewal online, Arch daily architectural website.