Maine’s glut of softwood fiber created by closed paper mills makes the state an ideal location for a factory that can produce insulation board from wood, a Belfast architectural and construction firm says, and it’s trying to find a European manufacturer that shares that vision.

GO Logic, which specializes in energy-efficient buildings, says it’s negotiating with undisclosed companies that make wood-based insulation board in Europe, where the product already is in commercial use. The goal is to have a plant operating here within two years.

Two of GO Logic’s executives also attended an affordable housing conference Aug. 3 and 4 in Philadelphia. One of them, GO Logic co-founder Matt O’Malia, was an invited speaker and discussed the company’s efforts. They also planned to line up commitments from a retailer in the New York City area to carry the product, as well as some contractors and a prefab builder. That’s crucial to attracting financing.

GO Logic also has been in discussions with a Maine lumber company that could be a source of sawmill waste, as well as a family-owned lumber yard with nine stores in Maine’s midcoast.

Taken together, these actions are another example of how businesses are looking at Maine’s abandoned paper mill sites and surplus capacity in wood harvesting to create new opportunities. Other efforts involve biofuels, agriculture and electricity generation.

Putting insulation inside the walls of homes is standard practice. But increasingly, contractors are adding an insulating layer to the exterior. That’s because energy-saving requirements are becoming stricter in building codes, and it’s often not possible or cost effective to meet them by putting more insulation in wall cavities.

This trend has led to more buildings being covered with sheets of rigid insulating board, mostly made from petroleum-based foam. But while foam board dominates the American market, there’s growing interest in products that are sustainable and more friendly to the environment.

That market potential has led GO Logic to form a new subsidiary – GO Lab Inc. – that’s developing its own wood-based insulation board, among other things.

“Insulation board is going to become a more-important product,” said Joshua Henry, GO Lab’s president. “We think our timing is very good, in terms of the insulation market and the wood-products industry in Maine.”

Matthew O’Malia, left, and Joshua Henry, two of the three GO Logic partners, pose for a portrait in their Belfast office building. GO Logic is a high-performance home builder working to develop a wood-based insulation board. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Henry, who went with O’Malia to the conference, is a chemist and materials engineer, and a former professor at Bates College and the University of Maine. Later this summer, he’ll be at a UMaine lab to test combinations of wood fibers pressed into insulation board for insulating value and strength.

The university already is a focal point for experimenting with ways to turn wood fiber into high-performance insulation. Revolution Research Inc., founded by former UMaine students and aided by government grants, has used nanotechnology to develop Arbotile, a wood-fiber, insulating ceiling tile. Henry said the process he’s working on isn’t as technically advanced as Arbotile, but is closer to commercial production because it’s similar to what’s used to make insulation board today in Germany and Switzerland.

The product is often called low density fiberboard. The German manufacturer Gutex, for example, has for decades made fiberboard insulation from spruce and fir chips and shavings from sawmills, a plentiful resource in Maine. Gutex fiberboard is used for sheathing in both walls and roofs. The material allows water vapor from inside to pass through and keep the wall cavity dry, a property builders desire.

Insulation performance is primarily ranked by R-value, a measure of how well a material slows heat transfer. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation. Gutex has an R-value of 3.7 per inch.

In the United States, it’s common to see exterior walls sheathed in the pink, extruded polystyrene foam made by Owens Corning, which is rated at R-5 per inch, or rigid foam sheets from Dow Chemical, which boast an R-value of 6.5 per inch. Both block moisture.

While the foam has higher insulating values, a sustainably made insulation board that’s cost-competitive with foam would be an attractive alternative, according to Mike Byram, who heads up outdoor products sales at Viking Lumber in Holden.

Viking, which has stores from Milbridge to Damariscotta, is interested in GO Lab’s work. Byram said it has become common for customers to ask about eco-friendly and locally made products.

“We would like to see a product like this hit the market,” he said. “I think eventually it could take the place of foam.”

A SHIFTING MARKET

That transition could take time, in the view of Steve Konstantino, owner of Performance Building Supply in Portland, because contractors can be slow to change the way they do things.

“I’ve grown weary of bringing in and trying to sell products that no one knows about,” he said.

But both Konstantino and Byram say that a flood of new building products competing for attention these day has sped up the pace of acceptance, especially around energy and indoor air quality. Paints featuring low or zero volatile emissions were novel a few years ago, Konstantino noted. Today, all major manufacturers sell them.

Konstantino said he thinks fiberboard insulation manufacturing is a great fit for Maine, but for a product to become mainstream, it has to be carried in big-box home improvement stores, such as The Home Depot and Lowe’s.

“We’re pretty far away from that,” he said.

For now, Henry and his team are focused on attracting a manufacturer and a distribution network. They also need to make a case to potential investors for why Maine is a better location than states with lower power costs and tax rates.

“Everyone we talk to in finance and venture capital asks, ‘Why Maine?’ ” he said.

One argument, according to Alden Robbins, vice president of Robbins Lumber in Searsmont, is that Maine has strong brand recognition in the Northeast. His company makes a variety of pine boards, and is building a power plant that will use waste wood to dry lumber and generate electricity for sale. But Robbins said his property also could be a site for a fiberboard insulation factory, and that he’d be interested in selling the product through a wholesale distribution arm the company operates in Maine and Nova Scotia.

“I think there’s a lot of potential for a product like this,” he said.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

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