Friday, Jan. 27 was an exciting day for the UMaine community, as officials signed a letter of intent with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the U.S. Department of Energy’s largest science and energy laboratory. The partnership is meant to enhance the development of forest-based biomaterials for use with advanced additive manufacturing, composite materials development and manufacturing, as well as bio-refineries, bioenergy and biofuels.
According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s website, the company is the largest U.S. Department of Energy science and energy laboratory, “conducting basic and applied research to deliver transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security.”
ORNL has several national missions, including scientific discovery, clean energy and security. Their four main areas of focus are comprised of neutrons, computing, materials and nuclear fission and technology systems.
In March of 2016, U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins created a request to support the state’s forest products industry. Earlier this month, the 134-page report was delivered by the Economic Development Assessment Team (EDA), outlining eight strategies for boosting Maine’s $8.5 billion forest products industry, which, according to an article on Mainebiz, “has seen a $1.3 billion decline in total economic impact since 2014 due to the closure of six pulp and paper mills.”
“The University of Maine and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are world-class research institutions, and the collaborative, innovative partnership established today will leverage their collective knowledge and expertise to advance opportunities that will attract bio-based industries and grow Maine’s forest economy,” Sen. King said in a joint statement with Sen. Susan Collins accompanying Friday’s announcement. “This is both a welcome and encouraging step forward for all those who call our beautiful state home and particularly for those who work in our forest economy. I am hopeful that it will be the first of many to come that will lead to job creation and economic growth across rural Maine.”
Under the agreement, UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center will serve as Oak Ridge’s partner to advance manufacturing of forest bio-based low cost composite materials and large structures. The partnership is following the recommendations from the Federal Economic Development Assessment Team in King and Collins request.
Collins explained that the agreement represented another milestone in Maine’s efforts to strengthen the forest products industry.
Jake Ward, UMaine’s vice president of innovation and economic development and Stephen Shaler, director of UMaine’s School of Forest Resources, are members of the Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative. “The university is a resource for the industry,” Shaler told WABI. “It’s a resource for the communities. But it will help us be a stronger partner and provide that support.” Two other members of the initiative also wrote an opinion piece for the BDN titled, “It’s time for Maine’s forest products industry to reinvent itself. Here’s how.”