Startup bets on bamboo panel construction

WINDSOR -- As construction with factory-built wood and light-gauge steel panels gains popularity for reducing labor costs, project timetables and waste, a 5-year-old company is betting demand will grow like a weed for studless, highly strong and energy-efficient walls made of bamboo panels.

[caption id="attachment_74197" align="alignright" width="360"] Bamcore test-built a 2,000-square-foot home in Northern California from bamboo panels.[/caption]

After five years in largely bootstrapped development, Bamcore, LLC, this summer plans to start producing panels from a 13,000-square-foot pilot plant coming online in the former Standard Structures plant in Windsor. The goal is to be making for two or three single-family homes a month by year-end. The company has lease options to scale up production to occupy 48,000 square feet of the building, if demand warrants.

"We're trying to take a sustainable, renewable resource and bring it to Western-style building products," said founder and co-managing member William McDonald, whose background includes 30 years in framing and truss-building.

Bamcore last year was granted a patent for the process that turns bamboo poles -- called culms -- into load-bearing panelboard. It looks like conventional plywood from a distance, largely because the panel has a veneer of Douglas fir to allow for easy application of paint and texture without the need for gypsum wallboard. The process cuts and flattens the culms then laminates them together with formaldehyde-free glue.

[caption id="attachment_74198" align="alignleft" width="315"] Bamboo culms are on a truck bound for a Bamcore plant.[/caption]

The result is a panel said to have similar load-bearing strength to steel yet can flex side to side much farther than plywood without breaking. Bamcore said it is keeping its product testing results close to the vest for now for competitive reasons, but it said it has had them tested through materials labs at Washington State University and Boston University as well as through Kleinfelder's former Santa Rosa lab.

Those strength characteristics are said to allow Bamcore panels to be simply precut in the factory for doors and windows and not need headers. From a previous, smaller research-and-development factory in Rohnert Park, Bamcore test-constructed a 2,000-square-foot house in Northern California in a few days.

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