It’s not just the below-zero temperatures this week that have us thinking about insulation. What’s going on at the former Madison paper mill would be good news no matter the season.

Belfast-based GO Lab announced recently that it has secured through the Finance Authority of Maine and the New Markets Tax Credit program $85 million in financing, which when combined with $35 million raised from private investors will help the company bring manufacturing back to the shuttered plant.

At full capacity, the plant is expected to produce three types of wood-fiber insulation worth $100 million a year. It will employ 120 people, helping replace the 214 jobs lost when Madison Paper Industries closed in 2016, a victim of the declining demand for paper.

The plant will also help Madison replace some of the value the community lost to its tax base when the paper mill closed.

If successful, the project is big enough to be transformational for the town. But the effects will be felt far beyond its borders.

The wood-fiber insulation plant, to be built by Pittsfield-based Cianbro, will be the first of its kind in North America, hoping to emulate what is a $700 million-a-year industry, and growing, in Europe. Indications are that the industry could grow fast in the U.S., where wood fiber is less expensive, and where consumers may be ready for a product that sequesters carbon and has less toxicity than traditional insulation, all for about the same price.

And by making loose-fill, batt and board insulation from chip of softwood, the new industry could play a key role in supporting forest products here in Maine, filling up demand for unused wood fiber that has been hurt by the closure of paper mills here.

The investment in Madison is yet another example of the new generation of forest products taking over the old — a beneficial if slow transition. Besides the paper mills that have adapted to create products other than newspaper and magazine stock, there are companies using wood fiber in new and exciting ways.

The University of Maine, of course, has been helping to create wood composites-based technology. There is a bright future for cross-laminated timber, which could replace climate-harming steel and concrete in construction; if so, it could be built here.

Wood can be used for all sorts of products we need today, biofuels, plastics and chemicals included. These innovative new uses can add value to the trees the cover Maine, and jobs to the communities that have lost so many over the last few decades.

They can help replace what disappeared when the paper industry collapsed here, and give old paper towns like Madison a shot at a bright, new future.

 


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