ASCC research helps Maine company launch first North American wood fiber insulation products

The forest products industry has long been a significant component of Maine’s economy, with 89% of the state being forested. However, in recent years, declining demand and market challenges resulted in the shutdown of many Maine paper mills, causing the loss of thousands of jobs. The innovation of one such shut-down mill makes it home to a renaissance, breathing new life into a local community and igniting a spark of hope for a sustainable future.

TimberHP, an insulation manufacturer, acquired the Madison paper mill that closed in 2016. The 100-million dollar renovation, built three manufacturing lines that produce wood fiber insulation (WFI) products. The company is the first to produce wood fiber insulation products in North America.

On July 21, TimberHP opened its doors to 350 people, commemorating the beginning of the operation of its first wood fiber insulation production line. Governor Janet Mills, Senator Susan Collins, Congressman Jared Golden, Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor Ali Zaid and Brian Brashaw with the USDA Forest Service were among the crowd to celebrate such a significant day for not only the company, but the state of Maine, and the United States.  

Wood fiber insulation-based products have been produced and used in European countries, mainly in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, since the mid-1990s. WFI is made in three forms, 1) loose-fill, 2) batts, and 3) rigid boards. WFI, which has grown into a 0.7 billion USD market in Europe, is currently being imported into the U.S., but high shipping costs have kept it an expensive niche product. Emerging domestic manufacturing is projected to make WFI a cost-neutral, drop-in replacement for fossil-based insulation boards, such as extruded/expanded polystyrene foam (XPS/EPS). Wood fiber insulation has better ecological credentials, as well as several performance advantages, over fossil-based conventional insulation materials, including better sound attenuation, and vapor openness. WFI also can utilize a wide range of species, providing a critical outlet for a lower value, underutilized species which can have a positive impact on overall forest health. WFI is a prime potential consumer of residuals, which for many regions have found their traditional outlets disappearing (e.g. paper chips, pellets, biomass energy plants). 

The University of Maine Advanced Structures & Composites Center (ASCC) has assisted TimberHP since 2018 in developing wood fiber insulation products. We conducted trials with TimberHP’s suppliers for proof-of-concept testing, demonstrating ease of installation, among other benefits of this product. The Director of the ASCC’s Laboratory of Renewable Nanomaterials, Mehdi Tajvidi, works with TimberHP researching the use of nanocellulose as a binder in wood fiber insulation. 

TimberHP recently contributed a new wood fiber pilot line to the ASCC, who received a $2 million grant to develop new products. This contribution allowing the ASCC to use this technology secures the ASCC as TimberHP’s primary research & development facility.

“My Administration has been proud to partner with TimberHP to bring manufacturing back to Madison. Today, Maine becomes home to North America’s first manufacturer of wood fiber insulation – an historic achievement that will strengthen our economy and send the unmistakable message that Maine is on the cutting-edge of innovation,” said Governor Janet Mills. “This extraordinary milestone is an example of how public-private collaboration can create good-paying jobs, advance our clean energy goals, and bring new life to our old mills. I congratulate TimberHP and the people of Madison on this accomplishment.” (TimberHP Website

The ASCC’s research roots are in Wood Composites. Since opening in 1996, the ASCC has conducted hundreds of federal and industrial trials on wood and wood-based composite materials. Forestry has been the backbone of Maine’s economy for centuries, and the ASCC is dedicated to bringing Maine’s historic industries into the next generation. Read more about our groundbreaking work in wood composites

Contact: Amy Blanchard