GBA Logo horizontal Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Audio Play Icon Headphones Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Check Icon Print Icon Picture icon Single Arrow Icon Double Arrow Icon Hamburger Icon TV Icon Close Icon Sorted Hamburger/Search Icon
Green Building News

Fiberboard Insulation Developer Takes a Step Forward

A Maine startup plans to turn a closed paper mill into a new production facility for fiberboard

Fiberboard insulation, long popular in Europe, should have its first U.S. producer by early next year. A Maine-based company plans to overhaul a closed paper mill and ready a new production line for fiberboard. [Photo credit: 475 High Performance Building Supply]

A Maine-based startup hoping to expand the wood fiber insulation market in the U.S. is in the process of buying a shuttered paper mill and hopes to start production of batt, board and blown in insulation next year.

GO Lab, a spinoff of GO Logic in Belfast, Maine, is plunking down roughly $2.5 million for the Madison Paper Industries mill that was closed in 2016 amid the slow deflation of the state’s pulp and paper industry, according to The Portland Press Herald.

Matt McConnell, director of market development, said in a telephone call that the company has purchased used equipment from Germany and can begin setting up a production line as soon as a paper-making machine has been disassembled and removed.

Insulation made from wood fiber is fairly common in Europe but it’s a relatively  expensive and hard-to-find product in the U.S. There are only two known retailers in the country — 475 High Performance Building Supply in New York, which sells German-made Gutex, and Global Wholesale Supply, a Maryland-based company that distributes Steico insulation, which is  manufactured in Poland. GO Lab would become the first producer in the country.

In an interview with GBA in 2017, GO Lab CEO Josh Henry said that wood fiber insulation will make an appealing alternative to rigid foam because it’s made from wood fiber rather than petrochemicals, can be recycled, and can be manufactured sustainably from Maine’s abundant wood fiber resources. Like rigid foam or mineral wool, it can be applied in a continuous layer on the outside of a building to reduce thermal bridging through the structural framing. Fiberboard insulation is not a structural component.

GO Lab hopes to sell the insulation both to lumberyards and to insulation distributors and contractors. Distribution will be mainly in the Northeast, McConnell said, but the company would ship it to buyers elsewhere.

Factory site is in the heart of paper country

Madison, Maine, is a town of about 4,800 in the rural midsection of the state. The mill’s closure in 2016 was part of an industry contraction that saw the number of mills decline and employment fall from its peak of 18,000 workers in the 1960s. The downward trend followed lower demand for newsprint and the type of glossy magazine stock the Madison mill produced.

The end of paper making in Madison was a blow to the community. Two hundred and fourteen people lost their jobs, and the town lost its biggest taxpayer.

But wood products, including paper, remain an important part of Maine’s economy and cultural identify. Industry officials look to non-traditional means of using the state’s forest resources to bring jobs back. If GO Lab can get its business off the ground and make good on Henry’s goal of hiring 110 people, it would be good news on Main Street.

GO Lab has been looking for private sources of money, and won a $100,000 grant last year through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Then, earlier this month, the company was awarded another $750,000 grant, this one from state sources.

McConnell said the company is “feverishly” raising money and would need between $60 million and $65 million to get the operation off the ground. “We’re getting good traction,” he said.

So far, a niche product here

Fiberboard insulation will appeal to builders who want to avoid any type of foam in their roof and wall assemblies. European builders apparently like it, but U.S. builders don’t have ready access to it, and it’s considerably more expensive than rigid foam.

Gutex Multitherm 40 (R-5.8) costs about $1.80 per square foot — nearly three times as much as 1 1/2-inch-thick EPS with the same R-value — and it comes in an odd size that is incompatible with the 4-foot grid used by U.S. builders (although the tongue-and-groove design means seams don’t have to land on framing members).

Gutex Multitherm, meant for application on exterior walls, is sold in thicknesses ranging from 1 9/16 inches to 7 7/8 inches, with R-values from 5.8 to 29.1 respectively. The composition of Multitherm is 1% paraffin, 4% polyurethane, and 95% wood. It has an R-value of 3.7 per inch and a perm rating of 44 in a 1-inch thickness.

Steico’s competing product, called Steico Universal, comes in a variety of thicknesses, with 40 mm (1.57 inches) and 60 mm (2.36 inches) the most popular here, according to a company spokesman. It’s R-value is about 3 per inch, with standard sheets sold here about 7.2 feet by 2.5 feet.

McConnell said that the company hopes to get the price of fiberboard down so that it’s only slightly more expensive that extruded polystyrene (XPS).

As much as current fiberboard retailers like the product, they recognize that it isn’t likely to dethrone rigid foam or fiberglass. “We’re not going to make this a mainstream product,” said Will Grupenhoff, vice president for business development at Global Wholesale Supply. “It’s not going to be a product that winds up in Home Depot.”

But both Grupenhoff and Ken Levenson, 475’s chief operating officer, look forward to a growing market for the product in the U.S. as interest in healthy, low-carbon buildings gains a wider audience.

“Like Passive House and all the players in Passive House, whether you’re window suppliers or airtightness [product] suppliers or insulation suppliers, all these different efforts to grow the market and the availability of these products is going to help everyone,” Levenson said. “It’s going to make a more dynamic and more mature industry to serve the market.”

Levenson said that fiberboard insulation is a good fit with mass timber construction because it uses waste that would otherwise be burned or used in another product with a shorter carbon cycle. “It’s real value added in terms of the climate fight in that way,” he said. Other benefits include excellent sound attenuation and workability.

This post was updated on April 24.

10 Comments

  1. User avater
    Jon R | | #1

    > Fiberboard is not a structural component.

    I'd say "may or may not be a structural component".

    1. User avater GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #2

      Jon,
      I agree. Part of the problem may be casual use of the word "fiberboard." I think that the product discussed in this article is more properly called "wood fiber insulation."

      There are at least three U.S. manufacturers of structural fiberboard (as distinct from wood fiber insulation):

      International Bildrite
      101 Fourth Street East
      International Falls, MN 56649
      218-283-3900
      http://www.bildrite.net/sheathing.htm
      Manufacturer of BraceRite sheathing

      Georgia-Pacific
      Stedi-R structural sheathing and QuietBrace structural sheathing
      http://www.gp.com/build/product.aspx?pid=6056

      Homasote Company
      PO Box 7240
      West Trenton, NJ 08628-0240
      http://www.homasote.com/

        1. User avater GBA Editor
          Martin Holladay | | #4

          David,
          Thanks for the link. It's unfortunate news -- structural fiberboard is a useful product for builders who prefer vapor-permeable sheathing.

      1. WillGrupenhoff | | #7

        Martin,

        GP closed its plant as well a few years ago as well.

        Will

        1. User avater GBA Editor
          Martin Holladay | | #8

          Will,
          Another sad piece of news. Thanks for the update.

  2. Gary | | #5

    Very interesting. Much of the background you described would apply equally here in Oregon: a rich timber history and shuttered mills in areas of the state starved for jobs. I'd love to see this successful and another operation start-up here.

    1. Russell Miller | | #6

      I second that!!

  3. Mela Breen | | #9

    I think it is important to note that these types of insulation can be carbon negative and given the time value of the carbon footprint of our buildings perhaps profoundly important.

    1. Malcolm Taylor | | #10

      Mela,

      Can you expand on why fibreboard would be considered carbon negative?

Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related

Community

Recent Questions and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |