However, if Professor Dirk Hebel of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) has his way, bamboo could "revolutionise the building industry" and replace steel as the dominant reinforcing material.
Professor Hebel who is working on new applications for the grass - yes bamboo is a grass! - maintains that bamboo fibre could be used as a more sustainable and far cheaper alternative to steel in the construction of buildings.
A story in the online magazine Dezeen, quotes Hebel as saying that bamboo“has the potential to revolutionise our building industry and finally provide an alternative to the monopoly of reinforced concrete."
Using a machine, he tests the tensile strength of the bamboo composite material which he says could replace steel as the dominant construction material.
Hebel and his team has developed a new material made of bamboo fibres mixed with organic resin called bamboo composite material, which can be pressed into any shape and then sawn or sanded like wood.
“Formed into rods, the material could potentially replace steel as a reinforcing matrix for concrete with no loss of performance,” Hebel says.
The Dezeen article further quotes the Swiss professor as saying "We can produce a material that in terms of tensile capacity is better than steel. Our material is only a quarter of the weight of steel. In terms of strength to weight, it performs better than steel."
Hebel said the material could also be used for other industrial applications, for example in the automotive industry.
"The material could also be used for car body parts," he said. "The big advantage of a bamboo fibre is that it is 100 times cheaper than carbon fibe, but it has potentially the same strength."
He added: "We started out looking for a replacement for steel but the field of applications is becoming wider."
The composite bamboo material team are now testing out the combination of bamboo and concrete
Hebel started experimenting with bamboo as part of a research project to give developing countries more sustainable and affordable alternatives to steel, which has to be imported from producing countries that are mostly in the developed world.
According to Hebel, 70 per cent of all steel and 90 per cent of all cement is consumed in developing countries.
"We found one very interesting plant that grows exactly in those areas where we expect the highest urbanisation rate," he said. "That plant is bamboo."
Beams made by combining bamboo composites and concrete are tested for strength by bending them in a machine.
Bamboo, which has extremely high tensile strength, has long been used as a construction material in the developing world. But rather than use bamboo in its natural state, Hebel developed a way of extracting fibres from the plant and mixing it with 10% organic resin to create a mouldable material.
Concrete reinforced with the material has been undergoing testing at a laboratory in Singapore. "Yesterday we had a breakthrough – our testing machine was not able to break the material," Hebel said.
Unlike timber, bamboo does not require replanting after harvesting. As with other grasses the root system remains in the ground, stabilising the soil while new shoots are generated.
A prototype of bamboo-reinforced concrete developed using a grid of bamboo composite reinforcement that is water resistant, non-swelling, and durable.
Hebel told Dezeen that the next step is to develop a sustainable alternative to concrete which, together with other cement products, accounts for 50% of all construction materials used globally.
"Besides bamboo we do a lot of research into other materials and of course our aim is also to replace the concrete," Hebel told Dezeen.
Bamboo composites could potentially be used to build skyscrapers in future, Hebel said.
"Can you build high-rises with that material?" he said. "In theory you can but that is not the market we're talking. Eighty per cent of all structures worldwide are one or two stories. That is our market."