The stories are mounting and coming in from the North with the latest news from the Maine Technology Institute and Jackson Laboratory. And while super bullet proof wood is being created in another state by removing lignin and increasing wood’s density threefold and its strength elevenfold, the latest news is making us think how amazing these mountains of Maine really are and how it’s a state that has much more to offer than lobster and blueberries – though that certainly fills our appetites.
First, let’s start with the latest from the Maine Technology Institute, which just announced a request for information regarding emerging forest industry technologies, with the goal of accelerating matchmaking to connect the most viable, commercially-relevant forest industry technologies with Maine. A precursor to MTI’s forthcoming Forest Industry Innovation Challenge, the project seeks to connect the most viable technologies with Maine’s forest industry.
MTI seeks to solicit publicly available information on all types of emerging forest industry technologies, including technologies to manufacture solid wood products, energy products, engineered wood products, advanced products, construction materials, mass timber, wood composites, biobased chemicals, bioplastics, advanced biofuels, and nanocellulose.
Submissions are due by July 20, 2018 and should be submitted to Biobased Maine via email at [email protected] MTI has contracted Biobased Maine to help collect information on forest industry technologies and help evaluate them. Questions about this RFI should also be directed to Biobased Maine at [email protected] For detailed submission guidelines, visit www.biobasedmaine.org/blog.
A precursor to MTI’s upcoming Forest Industry Innovation Challenge in Fall 2018, companies must submit basic information in response to this RFI in order to qualify for the innovation challenge. Submitted information will be included in MTI’s Forest Industry Emerging Technology Database, which is currently under development.
Seeing the progress through the trees
“MTI has a strong track record of accelerating the development of new technologies in Maine,” said Brian Whitney, MTI’s President. “We anticipate that this RFI and the resulting Forest Industry Innovation Challenge this fall will result in more timely MTI investments in emerging forest industry technologies and enterprises that will add quality jobs in rural Maine regions that are enthusiastic for the new opportunities.”
“This project is critical to bridging the gap between Maine’s still strong forest industry, emerging technologies, and communities eager to host new manufacturing that can create good jobs making value-added products,” said Charlotte Mace, executive director of Biobased Maine.
“Leveraging MTI’s leadership in innovation and project development and Biobased Maine’s network of technology companies, this project will identify emerging technologies that represent the most viable investments,” Mace continued. “And this isn’t a one-time thing. We’re developing a process to continuously fill Maine’s pipeline with promising technologies in a coordinated, well-organized way.”
The Maine Idea
Over the past several years, Maine’s forest industry has come together to chart a course for the future of the industry. The industry remains strong and robust, contributing an estimated $8.5 billion annually to the state’s economy, according to the Maine Technology Institute.
The industry is also poised to embrace new opportunities and there have already been success stories. In just the past two years, $253.5 million in investment has been made in Maine’s forest industry, including investments in pulp and paper equipment, wood processing equipment, energy production, and new facility construction.
MTI contracted with Biobased Maine, a mission-driven trade association promoting the sustainable use of renewable biomass from forests, farm, and sea, to help with the RFI process. Biobased Maine’s mission is to achieve a sustainable biobased manufacturing industry in the state of Maine and members include manufacturers, raw material suppliers, landowners, farmers, consultants, research institutions, private equity and non-governmental organizations.
Read more about Biobased Maine and their future plans at the Digest’s “4 Minutes with…” interview from February 2018 with Charlotte Mace, Executive Director of Biobased Maine.
Leading the way
While the MTI news is quite exciting for Maine, there are also other exhilarating happenings in the biobased sector for the Northern state with a very appropriate motto – “Dirigo” which is a Latin word that means “I Lead.”
And leading the way they are – Jackson Laboratory, headquartered in Bar Harbor, Maine, recently created a new 3D bioprinting technique that creates a platform for precision immunotherapy. Going beyond biomass, these pioneers are using biobased innovations for progressive medical uses.
According to Jackson Laboratory, it’s now possible to 3D-print an exact copy of a patient’s tumor, right down to the various immune and other cells that surround it (known as the tumor’s microenvironment) and the capillaries that supply blood to it. The new platform will enable the researchers to observe, in action and in 3D, some of cancer’s tricks, such as co-opting immune cells in the microenvironment to suppress an anti-tumor immune response, thus tricking the body into ignoring a foreign invader.
Here at the Digest, we’ve heard more about Fiberight than almost any other company in Maine though so it’s only fair we give a shout out to the recent developments there. In May, the Digest reported that although Fiberight tried to get its MSW processing facility up and running by April to begin receiving waste from 115 of the state’s communities, the facility should be up and running by year’s end even if it’s not ready to produce biofuels by then. The company secured $70 million in financing in January but wasn’t able to make progress as planned due to winter weather.
It’s also worth noting that in May 2017, the Digest reported that Biofine was seeking investors to help it scale up the wood-based biofuel technology developed by the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute. The company invested $200,000 in an old small-scale biofuel plant that was converted to run on the technology and demonstrate its viability. It was ready to scale up at the Old Mill facility where it is being tested or at other mill sites across the state that have shut down in recent years due to a decline in the pulp and paper industry, but no updates since then have been announced.
Sappi has also been getting involved in Maine with their Sappi North America Maine Forestry Program, as well as inspiring others by having leaders like Laura Thompson, director of sustainable development and policy initiatives who was named the 2018 Woman of Distinction by Girl Scouts of Maine for her work in encouraging girls to pursue activities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In February, Sappi North America joined national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership as a new funding partner, demonstrating its commitment to a better future.
In April, the Digest’s NUU reported that Maine’s craft breweries are getting innovative too and not letting wood pulp and spent grain go to waste. With over 100 breweries in Maine, Maine Coasters + Bio Boards teamed up with the University of Maine Process Development Center and started producing beer coasters made from the spent grain, vegetable dyes, and pine and spruce wood pulp.
The Pine Tree State sure has lots of trees – in fact, about 90 percent of Maine is forested, the highest percentage of any state. But what it has even more of is innovation. From MTI and Jackson Laboratory to Fiberight, Sappi, and beer coasters paving the way of the future, we see Maine as a leader among the Northern states and expect to see more exciting news from them in the coming months.