I’ve been advocating for natural, sustainable resources since around 1996. I probably picked up my first block of hempcrete, or hemp concrete, in 1998. And I think I bought my first bamboo cutting board in 2001. And I’ve had a close eye on the industry ever since. But I think the level of innovation in the area of renewable building materials has never been more astonishing than it is today. And nowhere is that more evident than with the Structurally Engineered Bamboo (SEB) coming from ReNüTeq in St. Louis, MO.
ReNüTeq is an American company specializing in sustainable building technologies, producing some of the most cutting-edge bamboo materials and designs. ReNüTeq works exclusively with Guadua bamboo from Latin America, using patented processes and techniques to create what is probably the highest-quality, architectural grade bamboo material on the market. Their Structurally Engineered Bamboo and Radial Laminated Bamboo have raised the standard, delivering sophisticated solutions for an impressive range of international projects, both commercial and residential.
Bamboo as a Building Material
Bamboo is one of the oldest building materials known to mankind. And it’s easy to see why our early ancestors found it so appealing. Bamboo was, and remains, both plentiful and durable. What else could a builder ask for?
Back then, several thousand years ago, bamboo’s remarkable renewability was less important. Deforestation was not a matter of concern. In fact, it was probably unthinkable.
But over the last 500 years or so, our species has systematically decimated the hardwood forests that once covered massive swaths of Asia, Europe, and North America. The old-growth stands of fir and spruce have been reduced to little more than sporadic tourist attractions.
The industrial revolution seemed to ease the strain on our forests. But the construction materials of the 20th century have raised other concerns, with the enormous carbon footprints related to concrete and steel production. And today, criteria like renewability and sustainability have become as important as strength and durability.
It’s as if the cycle has come full circle. One of the earliest and simplest of human construction materials, bamboo now stands at the forefront of technological innovation.
What is Structurally Engineered Bamboo?
Bamboo is absolutely elegant in its simplicity. Its culms, or stems, can produce tremendous poles that are terrifically strong and straight. Hollow on the inside, these poles are also very lightweight. They are easy to drill, fasten, and arrange for all manner of basic construction, even with the most rudimentary tools.
And while the natural roundness of bamboo poles lends them a certain organic beauty, they lack the perfect regularity and consistency needed for building on a commercial scale. The rustic huts of Gilligan’s Island, for example, have plenty of charm. But they would never pass a building inspection.
In the hands of a clever engineer, however, it’s possible to turn these giant canes of grass into something more modern, sleek, and functional, while retaining all the advantages of bamboo’s tensile strength. By now, most of us have seen such laminated bamboo products as flooring, cutting boards, and cabinetry.
From the cheapest bamboo kitchenwares you’ll find at Target, to the most high-end bamboo flooring and furniture, there’s a vast range of techniques for laminating and compressing strips of bamboo together. And certainly, the process of creating structurally sound building material from bamboo will be more involved than what goes into an eight-dollar cutting board.
ReNüTeq uses propriety methods and technology to produce Structurally Engineered Bamboo (SEB) that is as strong or stronger than any lumber product in the industry. As the name says, this product is not simply decorative, like many bamboo carpentry elements, but structural.
SEB is capable of supporting roofs and holding houses together. Not only that, but it’s also weatherproof. Impervious to the elements, SEB is excellent for awnings, decks, and other outdoor structures.
Who is ReNüTeq?
ReNüTeq is the brainchild of Luke D. Schuette, who began laminating his first bamboo slats in 2003, during his last year of architecture school. He pursued this vision for more than a decade, researching and experimenting to produce the strongest possible materials from the most sustainable natural resource.
Unlike the majority of the bamboo industry, Schuette was not satisfied with the Moso bamboo construction materials coming out of China. For flooring and finish carpentry, it was fine. In fact, it was wonderful. But it didn’t have the structural strength that Schuette was seeking.
In 2016, determined to pursue his own unique vision, he formed ReNüTeq. A vanguard in an already pioneering industry, ReNüTeq uses only Guadua bamboo (Guadua angustifolia) from Latin America and has it processed and engineered in the American heartland.
Guadua is a giant timber bamboo native to Central and South America, said to be about twice as strong as Moso bamboo. It is arguably the strongest of any bamboo species, but you can also make a pretty good case for Dendrocalamus asper, from Indonesia. Schuette sources his Guadua from Ecuador in the most ecologically responsible manner. These clumps of giant bamboo are an integral feature of the native rainforests, and as such must be harvested carefully and strategically.
And while the vast preponderance of bamboo processing still takes place in China, ReNüTeq is one of only two or three outfits to be engineering bamboo construction materials in the U.S. The company’s headquarters and processing facilities are located in St. Louis, Missouri.
So if you’re waiting to see a bamboo industry flourishing in America, keep a close eye on Luke Schuette and ReNüTeq.
Patented Innovations from ReNüTeq
It takes more than just a passion for sustainability and a nose for Guadua culms to compete with the Chinese bamboo industry. Clearly, Schuette has a knack for architecture and design as well.
In order to create the strongest SEB, a product that measures up to and surpasses any other natural building material available, Schuette and the ReNüTeq team also had to develop some of their own patented methods. Chief among them, RadLam® (Radial Laminated Bamboo), is the propriety process they use to produce their superior quality SEB.
Unlike ordinary bamboo cutting boards, manufactured through a basic lamination process, SEB undergoes a far more rigorous procedure with multiple stages of heat and compression. And whereas most bamboo kitchenwares need to be hand-washed because they cannot withstand prolonged immersion in water, SEB is absolutely waterproof.
And never one to settle for “good enough”, I get the impression that Schuette is constantly striving to improve upon his products with new methods and innovations.
Bamboo E.V. Charging Stations with BMW
By now, you may be wondering where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Look no further than Bavaria, southern Germany and home of the illustrious automakers BMW.
Committed to global cooperation and a sustainable future, one of ReNüTeq’s current areas of focus is in designing charging stations for electric vehicles and making them from SEB. For anyone serious about forging a carbon-neutral future, it’s hard to imagine a better application for bamboo construction.
Unlike your bamboo chopping block or even your ‘indestructible’ bamboo flooring, these bamboo charging stations are built to withstand many relentless years of inclement German weather. And unlike that block of hempcrete I was handling back in the 90s, this project has the support of one of the world’s most reputable car companies.
Knowledge is the best building block
Bamboo is a plant of immense variety and almost unlimited possibilities. To learn more about the amazing world of bamboo and its incredible applications, take a look at some of these other articles from our blog.
- Introducing Bamboo: Genus by genus
- Top 8 books about bamboo
- Bamboo species for building and construction
- Bamboo U: Learn to build with bamboo
- Using every part of the bamboo plant
- Ethical Ethanol: The future of bamboo fuel
FEATURED IMAGE: Structurally Engineered Bamboo for outdoor, commercial use. Photo courtesy of ReNüTeq.