Sunday, February 13, 2011

PLASTIC & BAMBOO

My wife and I went to Giant Hyperstore last Saturday and we have to bring our own grocery bag because every stores here is implementing the "bring-your-own-bag-or-pay-20-cents" policy as introduce by the Government to reduce the use of plastic bag on saturday.

That's good. Keep it up BN government!!

Then that night, my dad-in-law called to update us on the progress of his recent project to renovate his house in kampung. It's my idea of course, I just want to make sure that there's future riots, my entire families have a place to go until the chaos died out.

The house or my paranoia has no relevant to this article. What's relevant however is the fact that the price of building materials are still climbing. According to my wife's dad, planks is even more expensive than bricks. Shit, this might momentarily slow down the progress of my secret riot shelter.

Which brings me to what I want to say in this article..

For reasons which escape me until now, the world's construction industries still failed to notice that the alternative to trees as source of building materials had been around since 1942. It's so cheap and so simple, I could have made it myself if only I have a few hectares of land to plant bamboo and a small factory to manufacture plastic.

Unfortunately I don't have any land of my own and no money for a factory. But someone out there has and the government surely capable of carrying out this idea.

The idea can be traced back to Herman Francis Mark, an Austrian-American chemist regarded for his contributions to the development of polymer science. During World War II, he came up with an idea on how to address the military need for alternative material for building war machines. The military need something very easy to mass produced, cheap and as nearly as durable as steel itself.

So he proposed for a reinforced plastic to be used. He had this vision of Allied's fleet and armada made 100% from plastic. Soldier shooting with plastic rifle, plastic airplanes flying over German, and even plastic tanks going head to head with German's Tiger.

In order to proof his point that plastic can be reinforced in such ways, he presented a report stating that even ice can be reinforced in the same way to make it as strong as concrete. This report later on found its way to the lap of journalist cum inventor Geoffrey Nathaniel Joseph Pyke who later on was credited for the ridiculous material known as "Pykrete". Pykrete is a composite material made of approximately 14 percent sawdust or some other form of wood pulp and 86 percent ICE by weight. Pykrete has some interesting properties, notably its relatively slow melting rate (due to low thermal conductivity), and its vastly improved strength and toughness over unmodified (crystalline) ice, actually closer to concrete. It's impressive alright, but it's still ice.

Comedically though, Geoffrey also proposed during World War II to the British Royal Navy for 'Pykrete' to be used for making a huge aircraft carrier. The comedic idea of ships build from reinforced ice eventually bring harm to Herman's about reinforced plastic. His idea about reinforced plastic was drowned by 'Pykrete' bad publicity.

So, where will this story go?

Well, apparently Herman knew that plastic - like ice - were brittle when pure, but could be toughened by embedding fibers such as cellulose in them, just as concrete can be reinforced with steel wires. Therefore if ice can be reinforced to make it as hard as concrete, then plastic can also be reinforced to make is as indestructible as steel.

The formula for reinforced plastic is the same with ice - 14% wood pulp and 86% plastic to make it as hard as steel capable of being turned into war machines. But this article is not about making war machines. This article is about suggesting an alternative to building materials. Therefore we don't need a plastic steel to build our low cost housing for the poor, we do however need to a cost saving solution to planks and bricks to wall their house and save our forest. Hence the percentage should be adjusted accordingly to create the type of plastic planks / bricks to be used as building material. For example, the plastic plywood intended for interior walling should be softer than the one intended for flooring. Similarly, the type of bricks intended for exterior walling should be as durable as concrete, but not as impenetrable as steel.

Which brings us to the issue.. the supply of wood pulp.

It is noticeable that in in order to manufacture cheap reinforced plastic, tons of pulp fibers are needed. The softer and cheaper the plastic is (for indoor walling) the more fibers are added into the mixtures. So people might say, how's that going to save our forest?

Well, that's why God creates Bamboo, the fastest growing plants in the world and capable of growing 100 cm (39 in.) or more per day due to a unique rhizome-dependent system. It is a known fact that if you plant a bamboo today, it will grow to to its full height and girth in merely 4 months which then can be harvested and turned into pulps. In fact, the more I read about bamboo, the more questions arise on why plywood manufacturer still rely on pulps from pine, cedar, spruce, and redwood to make plywood instead of bamboo.

If there's ever a country intended by God to start saving the forest, Malaysia is probably one amongst the most favorable candidate. Bamboo grows fast and healthy in our climate, and the Malaysian is well known for their house renovation hobby. It is a fact in Malaysia (or at least in the housing area I lived in) that whenever a couple bought a house, the first thing that mutually enters their mind is renovation. It doesn't matter whether the current space and rooms already suited their basic need because renovation is actually about (a) showing off to neighbors (b) showing off to relatives so there's no "mengumpat' (c) expanding space to show off to guests during party and kenduri and finally (d) to fulfill the basic needs for space for family members.

I don't know where our country ranks in terms of wood usage. But since our cities are already drown in plastic trash and short of forest, why not plant bamboos, recycle the plastic and sells the combination of them for tons of money?


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