Maine birch logs

As a business coalition for Maine’s forest products industry looks to increase production by up to 30 percent in the next five years, emerging technologies could be an integral part of that plan.

“There have been a lot of innovations on the science side, for instance in the area of nanocellulose technology,” Ryan Wallace, director of the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research, part of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, told The Center Square.

Nanocellulose, which is derived from wood, can be used in the manufacturing of many products.

“People look at it as better from a sustainability standpoint, and there are certainly green aspects to it,” Wallace said. If nanocellulose products end up in a landfill, for example, they take just a few years to degrade, instead of hundreds, he added.

Meanwhile, the Forest Opportunity Roadmap (FOR/Maine) has reached its second phase, according to a release posted on the website of the Maine Forest Products Council (MFPC).

Steve Schley, chairman of the FOR/Maine Executive Committee, recently told MFPC Board members that companies have expressed interest in the ideas put forth in the plan.

“As you get opportunities,” Schley said, “don’t forget to remind the governor, commissioners and legislators that we’re looking at the opportunity to add 30 percent growth to an $8 billion industry. The number of jobs and economic value that comes from going from $8 billion to $12 billion is so much – it’s an exponential difference – than taking a $500 million industry and making it a $1.5 billion industry. That growth factor is just extraordinary. So we’re hopeful to make that happen.”

Wallace noted that one in 20 jobs in Maine is tied to the forest products industry, and the opportunity for growth is significant.

“Certainly, it’s always been a key driver of Maine’s economy, and while there have been challenges because of mill closures in the last couple of decades, that appears to have stabilized,” Wallace said. “Pulp mills and manufacturers are adapting to new market conditions, and there are new and exciting technologies that are creating new uses for forest products. It’s a key aspect to Maine’s economic growth and development.”