Skip to main content
Start of main content

Retrofitting existing infrastructure to get the most value from our resources

June 17, 2024

By David Gilroy

By transforming a shuttered paper mill into a manufacturing facility, we helped leverage valuable wood resources and move the energy transition forward

In a world of limited resources and increasing waste, finding ways to retrofit, repurpose, and revitalize our existing infrastructure is important. We are witnessing this trend across industries, as experts all around the world are asking: How can we get the most value out of our existing assets? This is true for oil and gas companies trying to find new purposes for their existing pipeline infrastructure. It’s also true for mine sites that need a new purpose after mining operations have ceased. No matter the industry, retrofitting existing infrastructure allows us to maximize value, reduce losses, and minimize environmental impact.

The same is true with the industrial manufacturing sectors. Products that were manufactured at one point in time may not be needed at another. After all, our needs and wants as a society change over time. But in many cases, our existing infrastructure can be repurposed to manage that change. That was certainly the case with the former paper mill we helped to retrofit in Madison, Maine.

Maine has a robust forestry industry that yields valuable wood supply, so paper mills have had a rich history in the state. But when the demand for paper decreases, say, because of the prominence of online digital content, what becomes of the paper mills? Unfortunately, a lot of them have shut down. The same goes for the paper mill in Madison, which at the end of its era manufactured paper for—and was jointly owned by—the New York Times, prior to closing in 2016.

So, what could be done with the existing infrastructure at the paper mill? And what could we do with the valuable wood resources of Maine’s bustling forestry industry? We worked with our client, TimberHP, in developing a solution to both challenges. 

Managing Maine’s vast forest system can reliably produce over 13 million tons of certified sustainable wood per year. This provides a large source of sustainable raw materials.

A brief background on sustainable forestry

Before I get into our work with TimberHP, let’s briefly explore sustainable forestry and the valuable wood byproducts that come with it. Sustainable forestry is caring for and managing forests to provide the natural resources we need, such as wood and clean water, now and in the future. This creates outcomes that are socially just, ecologically sound, and economically viable. These are the three pillars of sustainability, and they are important in the fight against climate change and how we manage forest ecosystems for future generations. 

Forest management and promoting sustainability in the ecosystem can be necessary for many reasons, such as fire prevention or wildlife protection. Managing Maine’s vast forest system can reliably produce over 13 million tons of certified sustainable wood per year. This provides a large source of sustainable raw materials. During this process, valuable wood products are removed and transported for other purposes. In the case of the Madison’s mill, paper. So, not only is removing this renewable material good for the forest, but it also provides us with a valuable wood resource to be used in productive ways.

Do we forgo these valuable wood resources when the paper mills they were sent to have been shuttered? Absolutely not. That’s where our work with TimberHP comes into play. 

In 1906, the site was acquired by the Great Northern Paper Company and started rolling out its first paper. Image courtesy of Special Collections, Raymond H. Fogler Library, DigitalCommons@UMaine.

A history of the site in Madison, Maine

The original mill site was initially purchased by the Manufacturing Investment Company in 1889 to build a sulfite pulp mill. In 1899, just after installing a paper machine, the Manufacturing Investment Company went out of business. In 1906, the site was acquired by the Great Northern Paper Company and started rolling out its first paper. The mill was sold again in 1955 to the Economy Corporation. However, paper making in Madison continued with Kennebec Paper through the 1970's and ultimately Madison Paper Industries from 1980 to 2016. Unfortunately, the company folded in 2016 and it sent a shock through the surrounding community. What would become of the facility? What would happen to employment opportunities there? For a few years, the mill sat dormant with seemingly no purpose. Enter TimberHP.

TimberHP makes wood fiber insulation—a product manufactured using renewable wood resources. It is a sustainable alternative to other insulation products like fiberglass, foam, or mineral wool. Their products are vapor open, renewable, recyclable, nontoxic, and able to store carbon. By transitioning to these products, we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels while leveraging our existing resources in a more sustainable way. Plus, wood fiber insulation reduces operational carbon emissions, provides energy savings, and sequesters carbon to help drive the energy transition.

The primary sources of the wood used for TimberHP products are waste streams from two industries in Maine: silviculture and dimensional lumber production. In the case of the silviculture industry, logs with diameters too small for the region’s sawmills, treetops for example, can be debarked, chipped, and used in the manufacturing process. In the case of the sawmill industry, sawlogs are cut into rectangles and squares, leaving the rounded log edges as a residual waste product that is converted to wood chips. TimberHP then leverages these valuable wood resources for their products.

TimberHP originally discovered wood fiber insulation in Germany, but they wanted to bring this innovative technology to North America. So, it identified potential site locations for a new manufacturing facility. Because of its rich forestry sector, Maine was a great fit. Even better, there was a vacant paper mill just waiting to be put to use. It had a lot of the necessary infrastructure available, including existing roads, electrical infrastructure, and water and wastewater systems. Another great benefit is the local community. With the closing of numerous papermills in the region, there was a strong workforce that was already knowledgeable in industrial wood products manufacturing. Why not leverage those existing assets?

So, TimberHP brought on our team to help transform the existing mill into a manufacturing facility capable of producing wood fiber insulation products. And we got to work designing the first wood fiber manufacturing facility of its kind in North America. 

ERA Sidebar CTA

The Madison Paper Mill was shut down in 2016.

Retrofitting a paper mill for a new purpose

When the paper mill shut down in 2016, it was considered a state-of-the-art, technologically advanced manufacturing facility. It included all of the equipment and infrastructure required to produce more than 200,000 tons of magazine and insert paper per year. It was a fully equipped paper mill just sitting there. And while the paper machine and related equipment were sold to be reinstalled elsewhere, the facility had most of the necessary components for its ultimate transformation.

TimberHP bought the mill site in 2019, after it sat dormant for three years. The company then brought on our teams to provide preliminary and detailed design services for a mill conversion to produce wood fiber insulation. Construction began in 2022 and by late 2023, the facility was substantially complete and already producing two TimberHP products: wood fiber loose fill and batt insulation. TimberHP aims to be producing board insulation by the end of 2024.

Using what already exists can help to reduce both cost and waste while getting the most value out of our resources.

The site came equipped with additional infrastructure as well. Beyond the building itself, the site also had assets such as roads, electrical infrastructure, mechanical systems, connection to the municipal water and wastewater system, and office/administrative space. Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of those. What we had to do was help TimberHP integrate the wood fiber insulation manufacturing process into the facility. That started with the used manufacturing equipment needed for the process being shipped from Germany to Maine. By leveraging used equipment—we were able to implement a used refiner as well—the facility only serves as a greater example of asset reuse and transformation.

We used 3D scanning technology and modeled the equipment to orient it within the existing site, ensuring access for operations and maintenance. The site grading and services were modified to utilize the existing municipal and utility service connections. Building structures were analyzed and modified to support the process with additional new structures. Heating and ventilation systems were upgraded, reusing the existing distribution ductwork to supply tempered air throughout the building. Mechanical and electrical utilities were also modified to service the process lines from the existing supply. The successful integration has allowed the facility to manufacture TimberHP products.

But the conversion process didn’t just happen inside the facility with the addition of three insulation manufacturing lines. The mill needed some external upgrades as well, including the construction of large cyclone towers on the east side and roof of the facility. These serve as part of the fiber drying and pneumatic transport systems, and they are the most visible indication of the facility’s transformation.

The project also required no environmental remediation—a major testament to its owners both past and present. Plus, 100% of the electricity used on site is provided directly by the adjacent hydropower station. This reduces the carbon footprint of the site, and further eliminates transmission losses that are typical over long distances.

The benefits of this transformative project are resounding, and our teams are proud to have been a part of leveraging existing assets for new and innovative purposes.

ERA Sidebar CTA

TimberHP brought on our team to help them transform the existing mill into a manufacturing facility capable of producing their insulation products.

A new purpose to drive sustainability

It’s clear that repurposing our existing assets can help us get the most value out of our resources. The TimberHP facility helps to prove that point—taking existing infrastructure that is longing for a purpose and transforming it into a manufacturing facility that can help us meet the needs of the future. It also leads to the creation high quality jobs, supports the local forestry industry, and leverages valuable wood products to reduce carbon emissions and help drive decarbonization efforts forward. Plus, it promotes a circular economy that realizes the benefits of our resources throughout their lifecycle.

The new TimberHP facility is only one example of retrofitting existing infrastructure. Most if not all industries have the desire to leverage these assets rather than build anew. From old mine sites, to oil & gas infrastructure, to manufacturing facilities, using what already exists can help to reduce both cost and waste while getting the most value out of our resources.

ERA Sidebar CTA
  • David Gilroy

    David has over two decades of engineering experience in operations and multidisciplinary project management within the food processing, wastewater, and wood-based products sectors. He specializes in managing major international construction projects.

    Contact David
End of main content
To top