ORONO, Maine — Where the Aegean and Mediterranean seas meet off the coast of Turkey, thermal insulation for buildings isn’t much of a concern. Not like in Maine, at least.

When Nadir Yildirim, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources, arrived in Maine from Turkey in 2011, building insulation was a curious thing to him. He explored the concept and eventually saw opportunity for foam insulation made from all-natural compounds.

“I was really shocked by the winter and had never seen snow like that and cold like that,” Yildirim said, noting he also was surprised how much household income goes to heating as a result.

The opportunity he saw got a vote of confidence earlier this month from the National Science Foundation, which awarded Yildirim and his business partner, Alex Chasse, a $225,000 grant to help start their own lab and in the course of a year refine the process for making foam insulation using wood fibers and organic polymers.

“Our big value proposition is being eco-friendly with the same thermal properties as compared to others,” Yildirim said.

The Yildirim and Chasse now are looking for office space to start their own lab and buy equipment to complete their research under the company name Revolution Research. Yildirim said he hopes the company will have its own space by July.

Chasse, a 2013 UMaine graduate who works on soil and agricultural research at the university, said he and Yildirim made foam that’s about as effective at keeping heat in or out as insulation currently on the market.

The federal grant, Chasse said, requires the duo to come up with a new prototype, work that will come alongside efforts to make the product cheaper, easier to produce and more fire resistant.

Chasse said the biggest players in the insulation market don’t offer a 100 percent petroleum-free product.

“Even the more eco-friendly products are still polystyrene,” Chasse said. “If we can get this up and going, then we have a competitive edge against the big dogs in the market.”

Yildirim said the company’s business plan puts commercial sales about five years away. Over the next year, they will use the grant money to develop a prototype and then vie for a follow-up grant of $750,000 from the National Science Foundation, which would help them develop the manufacturing processes for bringing the product to market.

“First, we need to make this prototype ready, and we need to show it’s cost competitive with other products on the market,” Yildirim said.

Yildirim said the company plans first to target the market for commercial buildings, particularly for projects looking to build to the LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, standard.

It would be after that, he said, that the company may seek to enter the retail market, selling through home improvement stores such as Home Depot or Lowe’s.

That research could lead to other places, too, according to Yildirim, who came to the University of Maine partly for its research facilities for materials science and nanotechnology and partly to work with his adviser, Stephen Shaler.

“You can use them in insulation and packaging and food containers,” Yildirim said. “There are many, many ways that you can create and use these materials from wood fibers and natural sources and sugar-based organic polymers.”

Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.