Renewable energy such as charcoal manufactured from bamboo has similar calorific values to teak or eucalyptus, but burns with little or no smoke, smell or sparks. This is especially relevant for households in sub-Saharan Africa. Communities in Indonesia and Madagascar benefit from the generation of off-grid electricity through bamboo gasification; this can be replicated throughout the tropics.
At a larger scale an experiment using bamboo as bio-fuel has taken off in the town of Nankan, a major bamboo area in southwestern Japan. By around 2023, they plan to have the plant operating full-time, using about 8.800 metric tons of bamboo, creating a yearly turnover of 300 million yen (nearly 2,5 million euros).
Woody bamboo has similar chemical and physical properties as wood, composed of hemicelluloses, cellulose and lignin, which means that bamboo can also be processed into pellets for industrial use, which could be particularly relevant for Europe.
The Europe 2020 strategy includes a target of reaching 20% of gross final energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020 and at least 27% by 2030. Currently, more than 60% of the renewable energy in Europe comes from wood and other solid biofuels. Some of this is shipped from the USA, but there is a significant trade within Europe from the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) to the Nordic countries (especially Sweden and Denmark, but also Finland). Some volumes are also traded from Finland to other Nordic countries and between neighbouring countries in Central Europe, especially the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy.
The traded commodities for biofuel are mainly wood pellets, briquettes and industrial wood by-products like sawdust or wood chips. Rapeseed is still the main feedstock for biodiesel production in Europe and bioethanol is mainly produced from grains and sugar beet derivatives.
Generating renewable energy from bamboo in Europe reduces the need to cut trees, provides an alternative to food stocks such as grains or sugar beet and avoids the need to transport wood chips or pellets from the other side of the world.