Pittsburgh — Although bamboo has been used as a building material for millennia, only recently have public and private organizations studied the plant’s mechanical properties and worked toward developing construction standards. To further that research, engineering faculty at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) received a $300,000 National Science Foundation award to develop materials- and mechanics-based models for the behavior of full-culm bamboo as a functionally graded, fiber-reinforced material.
Principal investigator of the grant, “Collaborative Research: Full-culm Bamboo as a Full-fledged Engineering Material,” is Kent Harries, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and Bicentennial Board of Visitors Faculty Fellow at Pitt. Co-investigators are John Brigham, senior lecturer of applied mechanics at Durham University, and Christopher Papadopoulos, associate professor of engineering sciences and materials at UPRM.
According to Dr. Harries, this is believed to be the first “materials science” study focused on bamboo funded by NSF, and is the first collaborative grant between the Swanson School and UPRM. The research is part of the recently formed Nonconventional Engineering Materials Initiative (NocEMat) at Pitt.
“In its natural full-culm (hollow tube) state, bamboo has evolved to efficiently resist a variety of environmental loads, which is why it makes a superb building material. However, only in the past few decades have we begun to apply engineering principles to its use so that we can expand its application as a sustainable construction material,” Dr. Harries said. “This award will enable us to apply materials and mechanical engineering principles to modeling, field tests, and design equations, thereby placing bamboo on the same engineering footing as more conventional materials such as wood.”
Dr. Harries notes that in developing regions, standardization of non-conventional building materials serves technical, ecological and social goals which empower rural communities to directly participate in construction of safe and reliable housing as well as to sustainably develop local economies. In particular, this project will leverage local resources in Puerto Rico and Haiti to sponsor a variety of training and educational activities deployed in four languages (English, Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole).
“In many areas of the world, traditional building materials such as timber, concrete and steel are too expensive or simply unavailable for everyday use, especially within developing countries,” Dr. Harries said. “Full-culm bamboo provides the potential of utilizing a sustainable, durable and affordable resource for housing, emergency shelters, and other traditional building applications.”