A bamboo engineered building product called GRASSBuilt is being manufactured at a small plant in Meridian, Miss. The patented technology, owned by TimTek, LLC and licensed to GRASSBuilt LLC, involves merging long strands, called scrim, coating with adhesives and steam–pressing to produce bamboo billets, which are further processed for various end-uses.
“Applying the TimTek process to bamboo has really proven to be the perfect marriage,” says Nicholas Wight, vice president of GRASSBuilt. “The process results in what can be described as ‘super bamboo,’ and is extraordinary as a base building material for superstructures, flooring, cabinetry, furniture and a host of other possibilities.”
The company reports that its aim is to shift the dynamic of nearly 90% of all bamboo products in the world being exported from Asia, with China alone accounting for 65% of world exports.
Creating a fully integrated and diverse bamboo economy in North America is the vision of GRASSBuilt founding partner, Sean Hemmings. “I’ve been involved in the bamboo trade for over eight years,” Hemmings says. “Worldwide, bamboo represents a $30 billion industry for China alone. There’s no reason the United States can’t become a vital part of the global bamboo equation and foster our own bamboo-based economy right here in America—especially since the U.S. and EU represent 78% of total end-user consumption of the bamboo-based products currently available.”
Hemmings’ plan centers on sourcing species of bamboo from Mexico and the United States. The Meridian plant currently procures its bamboo from Mexico, where prior to shipping to the U.S. the bamboo is pre-processed, which involves splitting the bamboo culm (stem) apart and planing the inside and outside surfaces to remove the natural waxy substance that won’t bind to adhesive. Another pre-processing step is heating the material in an autoclave with no oxygen in order to carbonize the fiber (a form of thermal modification).
Once the bamboo slats arrive in Meridian they’re run through a scrimming (crushing) mill, coated with adhesives and steam-pressed. The Meridian mill is building inventory of the billets to fulfill orders. It reportedly has had some installations, such as for flooring in Florida, and at Mississippi State University where cut-up billets have been installed as paneling.
“Many Eastern economies, including China, focus on employing as many people as possible,” Hemmings says. “At GRASSBuilt, we look forward to creating new jobs, but also to infusing our innovative, new technology into the equation of bamboo building materials.”
Hemmings adds that GRASSBuilt’s proprietary method of processing bamboo coupled with the plant’s inherent sustainable attributes make bamboo a premier building material for any project that desires to maximize its USGB, and LEED opportunities.
“GRASSBuilt products meet or exceed the most stringent of federal and state regulations for sustainable building initiatives,” Hemmings says. “The same cannot be said for much of the imported bamboo materials. At GRASSBuilt we’re 100% committed to being as sustainable and reliable as possible, and 100% transparent with our materials’ eco-quotient and consumer protection regulations.”
Hemming says bamboo has harvesting rotations of four to six years with certain types growing 2-3 ft. per day. He believes the finished engineered building material will compete in some structural applications, as well as many if not all decorative applications, and find applications in the furniture market.
Increasing sustainability regulations in the construction market, a desire to lessen dependence on imported goods and materials (particularly from China), and the manufacturing trend of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States after decades of outsourcing all combine to produce a new supply chain economy, according to Hemmings, which he refers to as the “Bam-Boom.”
“I’m not aware of any other U.S. manufacturing firm which is beating China at its own game,” Hemmings adds.
The TimTek manufacturing process stems from a product called Scrimber that was started in Australia in the mid 1970s. The manufacturing process was that pine or other species logs in small diameters would run through a scrimming machine where the log was crushed to form a mat of interconnected long strands, followed by drying, adhesives application, layup and compression, steam pressing, cutting-to-size and finishing.
In 2000 a forest products industry veteran and former long-time Georgia-Pacific corporate director of forest resources, Walter Jarck, spearheaded the formation of TimTek and gained exclusive rights to Scrimber research and technology.
But the technology or product has never found commercial success with wood species. The small Meridian manufacturing plant exists because a previous venture there had a license agreement with TimTek and planned to use wood, but the last recession killed that project.
Reportedly, a plan to build a manufacturing facility in Canada, possibly Quebec, and also using wood, had significant private and government investment behind it but fell through only a couple of years ago.