Possible solution for Nova Scotia’s wood chip problem emerging in Maine
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Nova Scotia has a biomass problem that needs solving. Currently, forestry by-products are amassing in the province as demand from paper mills tumults. To create demand, Nova Scotia Power was directed by the province to burn biomass for electricity generation, to the criticism of environmentalists. Biomass burning was introduced to satisfy electricity demand while repairs were being made at Labrador’s Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. Muskrat Falls has resumed service to Nova Scotia.
In Maine, GO Lab has created a market for wood chips and other by-products, presenting a possible solution to Nova Scotia’s biomass problem. Founded in 2017, they are a building products company that manufactures a product line of wood fibre insulation known as Timber HP.
To learn more about this up-and-coming venture, I spoke with Scott Dionne, Chief Marketing Officer with GO Lab. He told me how this business was founded by Matthew O’Malia, a Passive House architect, and Joshua Henry, a materials chemist, who were working to solve the contradiction in the construction industry whereby building operation emissions are decreased by increasing energy efficiency with insulation, but that the embodied emissions of insulation can take many years to be paid off.
The EMBARC study by Passive Buildings Canada and Builders for Climate Action verifies this contradiction, as it was found that insulation is the second largest contributor to embodied carbon (in Part 9 home building materials) comprising 26.1% of emissions in the study. In this work, the study found wood fibre boards and batts store carbon instead of being emission intensive like foam or petroleum-based insulation.
Wood fibre insulation is more popular in Europe, with decades of market experience. Wood fibre is used in Canada as well, and there is a small company in Québec, but the vast majority is imported from Europe.
Range of net emissions for different insulation types, extracted from EMBARC Report.
At GO Lab, they are creating dry process wood fibre insulation utilizing forestry by-products from logging operations and residual wood chips left over from lumber production in Maine. While the forestry by-products and residuals traditionally went to paper mills, Maine has seen these operations close down over the years, creating a large gap between supply and demand. GO Lab is helping solve this problem through their TimberHP product line. They will be launching their product line of TimberFill, TimberBatt, and TimberBoard in 2023.
To do this, they purchased and refurbished a retired paper mill in Madison, Maine. They are able to accept softwood chips directly from logging companies and lumber producers and convert them to high-performance insulating products. TimberFill is made by steaming and tearing mechanically refining wood chips. The resulting fibre is then infused with small amounts of liquid boric acid to act as a flame retardant and pest and mould inhibitor; the fill is then dried and bagged for use as blow-in insulation. TimberBatt is made similarly but blended with polyester fibre and baked in an oven. For TimberBoard, 4% adhesive and 1% paraffin are blended throughout the fibre stream and pressed into panels measuring in thickness from 25mm to 240mm.
These panels are vapor-open, allowing indoor humidity to escape, while also being hydrophobic and capable of repelling bulk moisture in above-grade wall and roof assemblies. They come with competitive R-values, 3.8/inch, 4/inch, and 3.4-3.7/inch, respectively. Both the fill and batt have Class A Flame Spread ratings, and Class B for the board which make the products a perfect fit for residential and light-commercial construction
Another benefit of wood fibre insulation is thermal diffusivity. Unlike other types of insulation, wood fibre has a thermal storage capacity, so it can hold onto warmth and guard against heat transfer, which makes it appropriate for both warm and cold climates.
Comparison of the TimberHP product line, used with permission from GO Lab.
“TimberHP is HP times three. High performance: we’re entering the market with cost-competitive and performance-competitive products that can often outperform other insulations in many applications. Healthy planet: it’s carbon negative when it hits the jobsite because we’re storing carbon in the built environment, and then new trees pull more CO2 out of the atmosphere because our chips come from sustainably managed forests; our product line is pretty much fully recyclable, we can throw all of our scraps back into production and make more insulation. And healthy people: we’re creating safe and quiet indoor spaces with high-quality indoor air; installers don’t have to worry about the itchy and scratchy fibres; you don’t have to worry about the toxins off-gassed from other insulation following installation.”
Significant policy support will be needed to launch a similar venture in Nova Scotia. The GO Lab project required $135 million in investment (175 million CAD). Over the last few years, there has been a lot of upward momentum and interest in green buildings and energy efficiency from the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia, but far greater investment and planning are needed to replicate this innovation in Nova Scotia and to match the challenge of climate change. Natural Resources Canada has shown a great deal of interest in projects that revitalize the forestry industry. The program is closed now, but they previously ran the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation program and the Green Construction through Wood program.
To learn more about TimberHP and GO Lab visit their website at www.timberhp.com
Articles on the PBC website reflect the views of the author and not necessarily those of PBC.
Raidin Blue is a summer technical writer for PBC. He earned his MES at York University and B.Sc.Hon. from the University of Saskatchewan.
Cover Photo: credit to Greg Rosenke, retrieved from https://unsplash.com/photos/mGQfQe3EOBI