SEARSPORT, Maine — A container ship waiting this week in Searsport Harbor to unload its cargo is a visible sign of progress for Belfast-based GO Lab Inc., according to company officials.
The Alamosborg, from the Netherlands, is hauling an entire production line from Germany in more than 80 regular and oversized shipping containers. The lightly used equipment is destined for GO Lab’s plant in Madison, located at the former Madison Paper Industries Mill, where it will be used to produce wood fiber insulation boards for the North American market.
“This is something pretty remarkable, I think,” Josh Henry, GO Lab president, said Monday. “This is the first manufacturing line for this process to come into North America. This is a nationally, internationally, notable event … A lot of forest product companies are looking at us and hoping that it’s going to be a model.”
The company was founded in 2017 to develop and manufacture wood fiber insulation for residential and commercial construction markets, material which will be renewable, recyclable, nontoxic and perform as well or better than what is now on the market. Among its planned products are wood fiber board, batt and loose fill insulation.
According to Henry, when the manufacturing line equipment is installed in Madison, it will be more than 500 feet long, or almost one and a half football fields. Because it’s very heavy, the company may wait until the end of mud season to truck the containers across the state. In the meantime, they will be stored at Mack Point in Searsport.
The equipment came from Homanit Building Materials GmbH & Co., a German company that has helped facilitate GO Lab’s progress, Henry said. He described the owner of Homanit as a visionary who was the first to manufacture this type of wood fiber insulation in Europe.
“They’re the inventors of the process, and good people who saw what we were trying to do, and saw the viability of this process in North America,” Henry said. “When they decided to shut [a] facility, they offered it to us. They really were early financers of the project.”
GO Lab is hoping to start production of wood fiber loose fill insulation, the simplest product to manufacture, by the middle of next year or so. The other two will come online at some point after that, and the company expects to hire 120 at full production.
Even to get this far in the process has been quite a journey, Henry said.
“People said, ‘Well, could you start out small? Put in a few million dollars and go forward — that would be the best thing,’” he said. “But it doesn’t make sense to start small.”
Instead, GO Lab aims to go big. To get the production lines up and running will require $110 million in financing, he said, which they hope to do with $30 million in private investment and an $80 million tax exempt bond.
“We are getting to that point,” Henry said. “We expect to have all that financing in place by the end of May and June.”
In the meantime, the company has begun work to repurpose the Madison paper mill, which closed in 2016. They’ve been mostly working inside this winter, but have demolished old buildings to make way for wood handling and processing, he said.
“Anyone who drives past the Madison site can see it’s been vastly improved by the work that we’ve done,” Henry said.
The pandemic has complicated GO Lab’s efforts, but company officials have just tried to stay the course, he said.
“You really have to try to keep moving forward any way that you can,” Henry said, adding that he’s appreciated the support and confidence the company has received from its investors, the town of Madison and the state of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development.
“They tried to make the road as smooth as possible, given what’s happened in the last year. They never really took their eye off the ball.”