Bamboo an important player in DOE's Solar Decathlon competition

Bamboo panels like the ones pictured here are helping college teams make a run at winning the D.O.E.'s prestigious Solar Decathlon competition.

The Solar Decathlon, a biennial competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, is set to take place at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif, Oct. 3-13, 2013.

The DOE describes the decathlon as, "an award-winning program that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency."

Bamboo for the win
Collegiate teams competing in the decathlon are always looking for an ecological edge in their effort to take home the grand prize, and this year many of them are using sustainable bamboo products to maximize their chances of winning by minimizing their environmental footprint.

Bamboo leads to decreased deforestation due its annual natural regenerative quality. It also has a root structure that prevents erosion and, with its ability to be harvested by hand, reduces man-made impact on local habitats. Those are just a few of the reasons bamboo is considered a superior material for use in ecologically friendly homes, and they are part of the motivation for its expanded use in this year's decathlon.

University of North Carolina, Charlotte team using bamboo
Having been inspired by the ambitious urban revitalization projects taking place throughout Charlotte, N.C., the Solar Decathlon team from UNC Charlotte has designed a home, which they call UrbanEden, that is intended to be capable of being easily built in a modern city environment.

According to the Mother Nature Network, UrbanEdge was the team's answer to the question, "How do you bring nature into the city?" - a feat they were able to accomplish by incorporating natural design elements and materials like bamboo panels, which they installed on interior and exterior walls, a rainwater-collection system and locally manufactured non-toxic paints.

Santa Clara University's team turns to bamboo
While solar energy is the driving force behind Santa Clara University's Solar Decathlon entry, known as the Radiant Home, bamboo is also a primary component in its effort to take home the top prize. Using bamboo to build a large portion of the home's structural elements, including the walls, floors and ceilings, represents the culmination of 10 years of research and development into the material's design and engineering capabilities at Santa Clara.

The Solar Decathlon is meant to help blaze a trail forward in the world of eco-friendly construction, and these teams are showing how bamboo can be a major step forward in that effort.