Madison company aims to turn pulpwood into insulation, reducing buildings’ energy use

ByIda G. Payne

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Maine’s woodlands are a foundational aspect of the state’s ideas to generate down emissions of world-warming carbon dioxide. It really is a wide and developing forest, and each calendar year its capability to absorb CO2 increases.

Conservationists say that carbon sink must be preserved and expanded to meet up with the state’s local climate objectives. And innovations at an outdated paper mill in Somerset County could show a single way the timber marketplace can support in the effort and hard work.

This tale is portion of our collection “Weather Pushed: A deep dive into Maine’s reaction, one particular county at a time.”

Deep Dive Climate Driven

Starting in the 19th century and lasting into the 21st, paper mills close to Maine took in tons of minimal-top quality pulpwood each working day, churning out cellulose, newsprint and other stock for the country’s lively periodicals sector.

But with rise of electronic material and world wide trade, and the explosion of a pulp digester in Jay two several years in the past, Maine’s pulpwood markets collapsed. Several mills are tranquil now.

“We’re sitting down here in which they made use of to make the New York Instances,” Matthew O’Malia, the co-founder of a company referred to as GO Lab Madison, claims with a snicker. “Not earning the New York Occasions below any more.”

O’Malia sits in a brick-lined assembly home in the previous Madison Mill, searching out around a hydroelectric dam that spans the Kennebec River.
GO Lab is retrofitting the facility to course of action reduced-high quality byproducts of the state’s lumber sector — softwood sawmill chips and timber-harvest detritus that ideal now are challenging to market. They will transform it into wooden-fiber insulation, known as Timber HP. Some 230 million tons well worth a 12 months.

“At the finish of the tree’s daily life or when it is harvested if it were to remain in the forest it would die and launch the carbon into the ambiance,” O’Malia states. “We’re going to choose that carbon and lock it into the creating.”


EPA data highlight the significance of Maine’s forest as a carbon sink.


The Maine makers of a new wooden-fiber creating insulation solution say it will satisfy virtually all competition on price tag, and beats them all on carbon discounts.

Related technologies has been used in Europe for decades. But insulation, staying mainly air, is not economically practical for import to the U.S. So revolutionary wooden-fiber insulation in this article is fascinating environmentalists and traders, with the bulk of the $100 million challenge financed by municipally backed “eco-friendly” bonds.

O’Malia is a very little shy about recounting the “aha” second that served him and companion Joshua Henry find their way into the insulation small business.

“Yeah yeah yeah, it truly is not my preferred tale,” he suggests.

O’Malia is an architect, and a leader in Maine’s emerging “passivhaus” movement, which aims to structure housing and business buildings that involve incredibly reduced power inputs to keep them heat or awesome, therefore reducing CO2 emissions.

One particular working day he and Henry, a chemist by coaching, were being contemplating foam insulation that included the shell of a partly finished passivhaus faculty building in Belfast.

“And he’s like, ‘Oh good, I see what you happen to be undertaking, you happen to be developing a low cost beer cooler.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, that harm,'” O’Malia says. “Fundamentally it’s derived instantly from fossil fuels. And this is the dilemma: We’re investing a single environmental catastrophe, which is operational electrical power for structures, for yet another, which is the elements we are working with to create them, to attempt resolve the to start with issue. We didn’t address any challenge.”

But they may perhaps have now. According to the firm’s estimates, they can generate nontoxic, wooden-fiber batting, blown-in fill and boards at R ratings and rates competitive with all the common insulation merchandise. By the company’s accounts, only fiberglass would be less expensive — but fiberglass does come with a carbon expense, as do mineral wool and foam.

The company’s wood fiber insulation, by distinction, will essentially have a unfavorable carbon charge, since it will sequester a lot more carbon than is used to make it.

“I believe it is really wonderful. We’re genuinely fortuitous to have an progressive firm like this coming online,” suggests Amanda Beal, commissioner of the condition Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and co-chair of Gov. Janet Mills’ Forest Carbon Job Drive.


Timber HP insulation products and solutions made by GO Lab in Madison.

Beal suggests the job could make a measurable contribution to the state’s carbon price range, though the 120 positions created would mark development towards Mills’ target of introducing 30,000 “green” employment” to Maine’s overall economy by 2030.

“These minimal-quality wooden markets are truly necessary for woodland entrepreneurs who would like to go to to their woods and make sure that they can increase greater, older, higher-quality trees that retailer and sequester carbon,” she claims. “So there are a large amount of added benefits to those people work opportunities in phrases of truly supporting the eco-friendly financial system.”
Some of Maine’s major land administrators say the technologies could also incorporate value to forest-sequestration carbon credits they provide to polluting businesses in California, in which the federal government necessitates them to offset their CO2 emissions.

They incorporate, nevertheless, that 3rd-get together, true-world validation of any carbon savings will be necessary. And for now, some significant landowners that are in just uncomplicated delivery length of the Madison job say they will be happy just to find a new residence for pulpwood, the sector for which has all but disappeared.

“As those marketplaces began to decline, it turned progressively tough to be in a position to deal with selected stand types, specifically stands that had a high proportion of more compact diameter, reduce high-quality timber,” says Daniel LaMontagne, president of Seven Islands Land Firm, which manages much more than 800,000 acres in Maine. “Candidly, margins experienced as a end result.”


Fred Bever


Maine General public

GO Lab’s Timber HP facility in Madison, a former paper mill now going through retrofitting.

Timber HP is aiming to capture as considerably as 7% of the regional insulation marketplace, and LaMontagne states it’s a product that seems primed for growth.

“I imagine there would be a fantastically encouraging reception, where ever they found a wooden basket that was in sore have to have of new need,” he states.

In another part of the Madison mill, O’Malia and his employees have established up a kind of laboratory to display off for potential prospects different qualities of the insulation, these types of as its fire resistance or its skill to breathe but remain impermeable to h2o.

He says properties account for nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, and he’s hopeful markets and authorities policies will stimulate wider adoption of systems like his.

“We’re talking about introducing this I believe vital device for local weather mitigation into the North American market and then it truly is about scaling that in an correct way. It really is tremendous crucial to do it with the correct product for the reason that if you do it with the mistaken substance you negate any advantage that you happen to be proposing,” O’Malia claims.

The Cianbro design business is retrofitting the plant now, installing infrastructure shipped in from Europe. Timber HP programs to start turning wood chips into carbon-banking insulation in early 2023.


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