Recently, bamboo has emerged as a new source of biomass for energy production. Many studies and research has been conducted to evaluate the suitability of bamboo as a source of energy. Studies have been carried out in many countries (mostly where bamboos are abundant such as China, India, Indonesia and Thailand). Many studies referred to bamboo as a competent alternative for biomass resource.
Bamboo is a member of grass family (Gramineae), subfamily Bambusoideae. The bamboo forests in Tanzania cover an estimated area of 127,000 ha with standing stock of approximately 1200 million running metres (Chihongo, 2000 Pers. comm.) These forests are mainly found in two ecological zones that are the high rainfall forests of the Eastern Arc Mountains and Lowland areas. A special research done by Shimoda (1966) was aimed to research on bamboo regarding distribution and species composition in Tanzania. In Tanzania there are three main species of bamboo. These include Arundinaria alpina and close family species A. tolange, Oxytenanthera abyssinica and close family species O. braunii and Oreobambos buchwaldii on the other hand Bambusa vulgaris var striata together with B. multiplex, B. nutans, Chimono-bambusa hookeriana and B. bambos constitute the exotic bamboo species that have shown good growth within the Tanzanian local conditions (Chihongo, 2000 Pers. Comm.). Although bamboo is flexible and lightweight, it has received hardness or strength, ratings higher than many hardwoods. Bamboo is characterized as the fast growing plants which reduce rate of deforestation and for income generation. There are several ways to recover energy from bamboo biomass, each process results in different products, which can be utilized in many aspects. Bamboo biomass can be processed in various ways (thermal or biochemical conversion) to produce different energy products (charcoal, syngas and biofuels), which can be substitutions for existing fossil fuel products. Dry bamboo biomass whether firewood or charcoal can be used as firewood to generate heat for cooking, boiling and warming in households. It is a good source of energy for remote area where people cannot access electricity. Pyrolysis is the thermal degradation of organic materials at a moderate temperature (350 to 600ºC) in the absence of oxygen. The products of pyrolysis process consist of charcoal (solid phase), condensable pyrolysis oils (heavy aromatic and hydrocarbons) and tars (liquid phase) and con-condensable gases or syngas (gaseous phase). Charcoal can be used as a secondary fuel the same way that coal has been used. Syngas, consists of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane, can be burnt in a boiler for electricity generation or in a gas engine for power production. Pyrolysis oils can be further processed in “bio-refinery”, very similar to the current crude oil refinery process, to produce bio-fuels and other useful chemical products. The two importance advantages of biomass over fossil fuel are sustainability and level of CO2 emission. Bamboo biomass is a renewable source which means it can re-generated in a sustainable rate for extraction. Although the processing of biomass (thermal conversion and biochemical conversion) also release CO2, it does not contribute to the increasing of greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere because the CO2 emitted from these process is the very same carbon dioxide in the atmosphere fixed by photosynthesis within the bamboos. The idea to cultivate bamboo may sound strange in Tanzania but the fact that deforestation is taking place at an alarming rate with unparalleled tree planting efforts; time has come for Tanzania to learn from other countries about alternative measures to mitigate effects of climate change. Limited efforts towards those alternative measures have been practised by the TFS North Ruvu Forest Plantation where field staff are sowing bamboo seeds from Asian Countries and transplanting thousands of seedlings to the forest land. Bamboo species promoted by the Ruvu North Forest Plantation are Bambusa bambos, Dendrocalamus aspar, Dendrocalamus membranaey and local species (Bambusa Vulgaris). According to their meeting with members of the Voice of Firewood and Charcoal Stakeholders Taskforce (VFCS) during the study tour to the Ruvu North Forest Plantation in April 10, 2017, plantation management said that the lion’s share could be earned by Tanzanians, because plantation will be in the position to produce a vast range bamboo-based products from poles for construction, charcoal, furniture, baskets and scaffolding to luxury flooring and foods. The Voice of Firewood and Charcoal Stakeholders (VFCS) is a task force which is looking for alternative means of using non-forest products as energy for cooking that will benefit the majority in rural and urban areas. The taskforce is comprised of members from TaTEDO, TASONABI and activists of biomass energy resources. Accrding to Ruvu management, scaling up requires expertise in specialized areas such as micro-enterprise development, small-scale or industrial bamboo growing and production of bamboo products that might be better found in the private sector. Bamboo will bring wealth to the people, cleans rivers, stops soil erosion, and so on. Bamboo also will generate income to the people through production of bamboo products such as bamboo textile products; and bamboo energy products ranging from generation of electricity to briquettes for mass domestic use. Bamboo has been increasing in importance as a non-timber forest product in Tanzania over the last two decades, according to INBAR. Locally bamboo is sought for handicrafts, residential fencing, flower farming, farm props for banana plantations, furniture and other minor cottage industry products like basketry and toothpicks. Almost all the bamboo products made in the country are used domestically. Bamboo farms should be established to ensure a sustainable supply for the handicraft, construction and horticultural industries, among others.