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May 14, 2019

GO Lab lands $250K grant to test and market its ‘disruptive’ fiberboard insulation 

madison mill Courtesy / The Boulos Co. GO Lab Inc. has completed its purchase of the former Madison Paper Industries mill that's been shuttered since 2016.
GO Lab Inc. is a privately held, Maine-based building products corporation founded in 2017 to develop and manufacture innovative, environmentally responsible, wood fiber insulation for the residential and light commercial construction market.
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GO Lab, an innovative, building products manufacturer based in Belfast, has received a $250,000 award from the U.S. Forest Service’s Wood Innovations Grant program. The grant will assist GO Lab in its mission to disrupt and transform the construction insulation market over the next 10 years. 

It’s the second major grant the company has received this spring. In April, Maine Technology Institute awarded $750,000 to GO Lab under the Emerging Technology Challenge for Maine's Forest Resources competitive grant program to assist the company in creating the first facility in North America to make wood-based low-density fiberboard insulation. It’s an emerging technology in the United States, but in Europe wood-based low-density fiberboard insulation competes successfully with polystyrene-based foam insulation derived from fossil fuels.

GO Lab’s wood fiber insulation, to be made from softwood chips, will be renewable, recyclable, nontoxic and will perform as well — or better — than other products currently on the market. The company’s production facility, to be located at the former UPM paper mill in Madison, will consume 180,000 tons of softwood chips annually, create 100 jobs and generate approximately $70 million in annual revenue.

The forest service grant will allow GO Lab to do critical testing on its wood fiber boards, batts and blown-in insulation products.

“It’s a tremendous acknowledgement of all the work we’ve done as a company to research the products we’re bringing to market,” said GO Lab President Joshua Henry. “It will give confidence to our customers and to the lumber yards and insulation distributors carrying our products.”

The grant will also support marketing education efforts aimed at helping customers understand how GO Lab’s products fit with U.S. building codes.

Courtesy / GO Lab
GO Lab is developing insulation made with wood fiber as a renewable alternative to polystyrene insulation.

UMaine also receives grant

In addition to GO Lab, the U.S. Forest Service’s Wood Innovation Grant Program awarded $250,000 to the University of Maine to help the university finalize the modeling, siting, and engineering for a biomass combined heat and power system to supply the energy needs of its Orono campus.

The two Maine grants are among 41 awarded in 20 states totaling $8.9 million. 

This year the U.S. Forest Service received 140 proposals demonstrating the expanding interest in using wood in traditional and unconventional ways — as an innovative building material or a renewable energy source.

Over the past decade, according to the U.S. Forest Service, low harvest rates, aging forests, mortality from insect and disease infestations, and extreme weather events have combined to create conditions prime for catastrophic wildfires. The service’s Wood Innovation Grant program supports the development of consumer products that use the excess forest material that fuels wildfires. 

“Public–private partnerships supported by investments in wood innovations are key to managing wildfire risk and supporting healthy forests,” said Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, in a press release announcing the grant awards. “By advancing new solutions, we are making our forests and rural communities healthier and more resilient."

Of the 41 projects selected, 29 focus upon expanding markets for wood products and 12 seek to increase markets for wood energy, according to a Forest Service news release. Some projects involve the design of new mass timber buildings, such as a courthouse and K‒12 schools, while others explore using mass timber in high-velocity hurricane zones. 

Additional projects will help fuel small-scale, combined heat and power projects and biochar market development.

Advancing Maine’s forest products sector

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, a co-founder of the Senate Working Forests Caucus, applauded the awards granted to GO Lab and the University of Maine and their potential for adding value to Maine’s $8.5 billion forest industry.

“Maine’s forest economy plays a vital role in the state’s economy, and it is critical that this industry has the tools it needs to adapt to changing markets,” Collins and King said in a joint statement. “The funding will help the GO Lab Inc. and the UMaine teams develop new products and opportunities for the forest industry and support rural communities that rely on it. We look forward to supporting these efforts to help Maine’s forest economy continue to grow and thrive.”
Collins and King, who have been strong supporters of revitalizing Maine’s forest economy, said these funding awards continue a stretch of important investment in research and new product development in the industry. Last week, they joined U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Daniel Simmons, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy; and leaders from UMaine and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to announce the launch of a first in the nation large-scale bio-based additive manufacturing program and collaboration between ORNL and UMaine. 

Additionally, in March Collins and King applauded an announcement from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the U.S. Forest Service that they have partnered to initiate the Mass Timber University Grant Program. The new grant program aims to promote the construction of mass timber buildings on American higher education campuses throughout the country. 

The announcement follows a December 2018 letter, led by King and signed by Collins, that urged the USFS to establish an award program for education institutions to explore new potential uses for mass timber.

Collins and King said all of the projects funded by these recent awards align with the recommendations put forward in the action plan released by the Forest Opportunity Roadmap (FOR/Maine) Initiative in September 2018, an industry-led initiative that aims to diversify the state’s wood products businesses, attract investments, and develop greater economic prosperity for rural communities impacted by mill closures. The action plan was funded in part by the Economic Development Assessment Team requested by the senators in 2016 in order to create strategies for job growth and economic development in Maine’s rural communities.

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