Alex Chasse, middle, and Nadir Yildirim, right, receive the $5,000 check from Michael Connors of University Credit Union on April 25, 2015.

Alex Chasse, middle, and Nadir Yildirim, right, receive the $5,000 check from Michael Connors of University Credit Union for winning the UMaine Business Challenge on April 25, 2015.

Maine’s abundant natural resources have supported various manufacturing industries over the years, most notably the paper industry. But the paper industry doesn’t have the economic impact it once did and people have been talking about other industries that would create jobs in communities like Millinocket, East Millinocket, Bucksport and Lincoln, all of which have either lost their paper mills altogether or suffered a large number of layoffs.

Could bio-based insulating foam board be Maine’s next major forest products industry?

Nadir Yildirim and Alex Chasse believe it can be.

Yildirim, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maine, and Chasse, a 2013 UMaine graduate in civil engineering who currently works as a researcher at the university’s Advanced  Structures and Composites Center, won the UMaine Business Challenge over the their weekend with their pitch for a business that would produce forest-based, environmentally friendly materials for the construction, insulation and food packaging industries. They’ve called their business Revolution Research Inc.

The pair’s first product is foam insulation board that is made from natural resources and 100 percent recyclable, which makes it stand out from the existing foam insulation that is made with petroleum-based materials, according to Chasse, a 25-year-old Waterville native.

“That gives us a competitive edge with people looking to go green,” Chasse said.

The thermal insulation market in North America is worth an estimated $10 billion to $15 billion, according to Yildirim’s research. That market is expected to grow to $27 billion by 2020, he said.

Winning the UMaine Business Challenge, which is Maine’s only statewide student business plan competition, comes with a $5,000 check, which Yildirim and Chasse plan to use for continued research and development, specifically improving the flame-resistant nature of their product.

“Our mission is to protect and improve global human health,” Yildirim said. “Winning the UMaine Business Challenge means we are onto something. It means that the judges have faith in our company and that we can make a difference.”

Yildirim, who arrived in Maine from his native Turkey to join UMaine’s graduate program at the School of Forest resources, met Chasse while working in the university’s lab. Specifically, they met because they both utilize an instrument known as an atomic force microscope, which is important in nanotechnology. The two struck up a friendship and began to take an interest in each others research — Yildirim in the use of natural resources to create eco-friendly foam insulation and Chasse into the surface chemistry of soil.

“Coming from an environmental engineering background, I was really passionate about that so when the opportunity came to explore green materials and foam insulation, I was very excited about that,” Chasse said.

The pair received a $5,000 grant from the Maine Technology Institute last year, which they used to help prepare a grant application for the National Science Foundation. If they win, which they’re expecting to learn within the next two months, they could receive nearly $225,000 to continue their product development and set them up for further grants that would help them create a manufacturing facility in Maine.

“As technology booms and we develop new ways to use the resources that we’ve used for centuries, we’re really looking to use those resources in news ways,” said Chasse. “Both of us would like to set our company’s roots in Maine and hopefully in some way contribute to its future economy.”

If all goes as planned, they expect to have 30 employees within five years.

“We’re passionate about this and are determined to make this work, so we don’t see why that can’t be a reality,” Chasse said.