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Bamboo Fibre Performance vs. Wood-Based Fibres

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

bamboo culms in forest

There are about 1650 species of bamboo in the world. This plant’s unique properties have earned its status as a valuable resource for a variety of applications, particularly in areas of the world where bamboo is found in abundance. Historically and today, bamboos are an important resource for construction, furniture, and common household items like straws, tissue and hygiene products.

These days, utilising greener alternatives like bamboo is becoming more of a priority as suppliers aim to meet sustainability goals. Acquiring pulp from non-wood fibres like Bambusa vulgaris (common bamboo), for example, is of utmost importance to global tissue suppliers in their bid to reduce the ecological footprint of their practices.

So how does bamboo fibre perform in comparison to wood-based fibres? Read on as bamboo bioproducts explains two of the key characteristics of bamboo biomass that make it an excellent candidate for tissue and hygiene products.

Bamboo Fibre Morphology

Most bamboo species are very similar to wood in their material properties and utilisation. Bamboo and wood fibres are both hollow with slender, sharp cells. Their cell walls are composed of primary and secondary walls, and the chemical composition of bamboo fibres include cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin.

One study explored the relationship between the price and performance of kitchen paper towels in the USA market. Properties of fibres used for tissue products were assessed to evaluate what product features (e.g., strength, softness, water absorbency, and sustainability label) are driving shelf prices, the relationship between the product performance and product price, and what variables (e.g., technology and fibre) could be changed to improve the product value. In a subsequent study, researchers performed a complete characterisation and value assessment for different types of wood and non-wood pulps in tissue manufacturing. Their goal was to highlight potential opportunities to better capture the product price on the market shelf and improve the adaptability of the fibre supply chain and reduce sourcing costs.

The results of the above studies showed that after comparing all of the pulps in terms of the fibre morphology, bamboo pulp had a fibre morphology that was quite similar to that of the softwood pulps. They found that fibre morphology directly influenced the perceived properties of tissue and hygiene products. Softwood fibres are primarily used to impart strength, whereas hardwood fibres are primarily used to impart softness and bulk. Bambusa vulgaris meets the requirements that are met by both hard and softwood used for tissue products, but given its fibre length and strength, is a direct sustainable fibre alternative to virgin softwood kraft pulp. Market pulps with a combination of long fibres and high coarseness content can provide superior bulk and water absorbency. Bamboo was shown to provide this excellent combination of water absorbency and strength without sacrificing softness.

bamboo vs softwood fibres comparison table

Growth Cycles

Bamboos have a shorter growth period than almost all hardwood trees. They are actually the fastest-growing plant on the planet and it might surprise you to learn that bamboos are actually considered to be a grass. The speedy growth rate of bamboo implies that this plant can produce quite a lot of biomass for pulp in a relatively short amount of time. So how does bamboo manage to grow so fast? Bamboo has a unique, dense rhizome structure that helps in accelerating the growth rate of bamboo shoots and culms annually. Rhizomes function similarly to roots and they are a portion of the plant that stays beneath the soil’s surface. Due to the unique biological characteristics of the rhizome, when a bamboo culm is harvested, the bamboo rhizome system is still alive and continues to produce shoots. Bamboos mature in around 3–5 years, and thereafter, it can be harvested annually for about 20 years or longer, depending on the gregarious flowering period, after which bamboo dies. Bamboos' gregarious flowering interval can be between 20 and 120 years depending on the species and location.

Bamboo fibre morphology in addition to fast growth rate of bamboos and their rhizome-dependent system allow for its biomass to be used for a variety of tissue and hygiene products. Incorporating bamboo pulp into tissue and hygiene products provides a strong, soft, and antibacterial result that can also reduce environmental pressure on hard and softwood forests that usually take more than 40 years to mature.

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