If two Maine entrepreneurs have their way, environmentally-friendly insulation made from locally harvested wood will breathe new life into a shuttered paper mill and all associated with the new domestic industry.

Matthew O’Malia and Joshua Henry have teamed up to produce a wood fiber-based insulation for use in home construction that is poised to be the first of its kind in the U.S.

TimberHP by GO Lab is the brand name for the insulation the pair will manufacture at a retrofitted former paper mill in Madison. The company's three offerings will include wood fiber boards, flexible inter-wall panels known as batts, and blown-in insulation all made from discarded residual chips found at lumberyards across the state. The new line of wood-fiber insulation will be renewable, recyclable and non-toxic.

O’Malia, the principal architect and co-founder of Belfast-based design/build company GO Logic and OPAL, the architectural side of the business, has been designing passive houses requiring little energy for heating and cooling for many years.

According to the company website, O’Malia realized insulation was more than just R-value, and wanted to use a more natural material — one that did not make contractors itch or trap moisture and was not derived from, or highly dependent on, fossil fuels.

In 2016 O’Malia began collaborating with GO Lab President Henry, one of his neighbors on the coast of Maine, who is a chemist, materials engineer and a former professor at Bates College and the University of Maine. Henry also spent years researching ways to reduce carbon emissions through renewable energy and conservation technologies.

Together they discovered that wood-fiber insulation, a material used for decades in Europe, exceeded their performance requirements while providing a sustainable, environmentally-responsible solution. In 2017 GO Lab was founded by the two men with the specific purpose of manufacturing high-performance wood-fiber insulation.

TimberHP Chief Financial Officer Scott Dionne, in a phone interview with The Republican Journal April 1, said no one in North America is producing such a product at this time, and added that the wood-fiber insulation exceeds most applications on the market now.

“The batt products are very dense,” he said, achieving an R-4 per-inch thermal resistance rating, which measures how well insulation prevents the flow of heat. A higher R-value means greater insulation performance. The batts also offer sound dampening properties. Both batts and blown-in insulation are treated with borate, a fire retardant that also inhibits mold and pests.

According to the product specs, boards range in thickness from 1 to 10 inches at widths of 24 inches and lengths up to 8 feet, and can deliver R-3.8 per-inch. Dionne said the boards are designed to be installed on the outside of a structure and replace products such as extruded polystyrene foam insulation, a rigid board type of insulation.

The TimberBoard, Dionne said, is hydrophobic and “vapor open,” meaning it repels moisture from the outside, but allows interior humidity to escape. The blown-in material is comparable to fiberglass loose-fill insulation, he said, and is rated at R-3.8.

Initially O’Malia and Henry thought about importing wood-fiber insulation from Europe, Dionne said, but freight costs were prohibitive. “The product is quite expensive in Europe,” Dionne said, “and is used on environmentally focused projects.”

Through grant-funded research and collaborations with European producers, O’Malia and Henry learned that the entire product line could be manufactured more affordably in Maine than in Europe because of the much lower raw material and energy costs here. The domestic manufacturing of wood-fiber insulation would also create new revenue streams for foresters and new jobs for highly skilled mill workers.

The specialized equipment to be installed at the mill comes from Homanit Building Materials GmbH & Co., a German manufacturer of thin, medium-density wood-fiber boards which, according to Dionne, manufactured panels for IKEA furniture, among others. Homanit offered the equipment to GO Lab after shutting down a facility, to help expedite North American production of wood-fiber insulation.

In late February, a Dutch cargo ship delivered equipment for TimberHP’s board line to the Mack Point terminal in Searsport. The company hopes to take delivery once mud conditions improve and according to Dionne, the blown-in insulation line is expected to begin production in April 2022, while the batts and board line will commence in October 2022.

Dionne said the product outperforms what is on the market now and addresses the issue of a building's carbon footprint while allowing moisture to escape and providing a sustainable product. In addition, it takes into account the people living in these homes, with a non-toxic, non-irritating form of insulation that offers less chance of respiratory issues and allergies.

The entire project, Dionne said, is worth $120 million and the company expects to hire 110 people for production, shipping and receiving, with a few positions created for sales and marketing staff as well. According to Mainebiz, TimberHP estimates $90 million in annual revenues.