ORONO, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Hundreds of jobs have been lost after several paper mills have closed in the state but now, there could be a solution for those hurting communities and Maine’s economy.
The sound of high-tech machinery — it is like music to Sen. Angus King's ears.
“We're talking about adding new products and adding new uses for the Maine forests," the U.S. senator said. "That is what's so cool about this."
Sen. King came to the University of Maine Friday to meet with officials from a national laboratory to announce a new partnership that he thinks will help revitalize former paper mill communities.
He plans on turning excess, low-grade lumber into a profitable commodity.
“I call it "'The Forest Economy 2.0,'” he said.
For years, King said he has been working with colleagues, trying to find ways to revitalize communities hard hit by mill closures. This, he said, could be one of those solutions. But, it's one that won't come quickly.
“I wish I could say help is on the way, we'll be there tomorrow, this is a longer term strategy but I don't think it's that long term,” King said. “We're talking several years, not decades.”
King said the partnership with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory could eventually branch out into, of all things, 3D printing.
“It's a whole new market for the Maine forest," he said, "and that's what I think is such a fantastic opportunity for Maine."
An opportunity that could reverse a trend Mainers have been seeing for more than a decade: vacant mills being torn down.
“We're talking about adding other factories,” King said.
“These are mills that would break down wood to very tiny molecular structures," said UMaine Composites Center Director Habib Dagher, "and these fibers we're talking about are stronger than steel."
Those fibers would then be used to create those 3D printed objects — some parts for other machines built elsewhere in the country or around the world.
“There have been several patents and businesses that have spun off from this center in the past and I think that will continue as we investigate these new materials,” said UMaine student Camerin Seigars.
“That's the whole purpose," King said. "This is where the research will be done that will create the opportunity for new factories, new jobs, new opportunities, all the way from the guys cutting the logs in the forest, through factories and people creating products like this."
Making this area, once again, an economic engine for Maine.
Within the next year, UMaine and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory will work to create the world's largest 3D printer which will allow them to print bigger parts at record speed.