Northborough company wants to increase its storage of flammable materials

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Aspen Aerogels is located at 30 Forbes Road. Aspen officials recently came to the Board of Selectmen seeking to increase its storage of flammable and combustible liquids, gases and solids. (Photo/Stuart Foster)

NORTHBOROUGH – A research and development facility is seeking to increase its on-site storage of flammable and combustible liquids, flammable gases and flammable solids.

Aspen Aerogels is located at 30 Forbes Road, and it seeks to amend its above-ground storage license.

Specifically, Aspen was requesting to increase the on-site storage of flammable liquids from 880 gallons to 2,000 gallons, combustible liquids from 380 gallons to 500 gallons, flammable gases from 390 cubic feet to 2,000 cubic feet. In addition, it asks that 11 pounds of flammable solids be stored in specific storage rooms and other approved storage containers.

“We can’t take in sometimes enough material to do experiments before we ship the waste out, and it’s caused us to stop doing experiments or to delay things,” Chief Technology Officer George Gould said during the Board of Selectmen’s June 27 meeting.

Who is Aspen Aerogels

Gould told the selectmen during the hearing that Aspen Aerogels has “grown up” in Northborough.

Its headquarters moved to Marlborough this year, and its Northborough site is now a research and development center.

Currently about 48 people work at the Northborough site. As part of their work, Gould said they draw on chemical stores and conduct experiments to develop new products and processes.

“Our business is expanding rapidly,” Gould said. “Right now, we’ve basically doubled our employee roster here in the past year.”

He explained that Aspen Aerogels was entering the field of automotive safety and battery materials.

Gould is anticipating that this research and development facility would have about 60 employees.

“So really the load on the chemical stores and the amount of work it’s generating, we need more storage in order to complete the daily tests that we do,” Gould said. “…We’re developing new products, and we need to expand our license so we’re not so squeezed with a cap that makes us have to operate to the license limit basically on a daily basis.”

Aspen requests increase

As Gould explained it, Aspen makes a product based on aerogel technology, which is a nanoporous solid, meaning it’s a solid composed primarily of air.

Their primary market in the early years was industrial energy efficiency, Gould said.

Aspen Aerogels’ revenue base is approximately $120 million, but Gould said it was picking up “significantly” as they move into the automotive and battery safety field.

“We’re finding a lot of excitement out there from [original equipment manufacturers] like GM and Toyota and VW and many other OEMS,” Gould said. “We’re working hard to develop products that are going to fit into their vehicles.”

The company’s existing license was issued in 2014.

Director of Environmental Health and Safety Rachael Weiskind and Gould said they are legally required to ship out their hazardous waste, which is removed by a third party using box trucks.

“It sounds like it’s really great stuff that you’re working on,” said Selectman Kristen Wixted. “You have to understand that we are representing the residents in this neighborhood. We haven’t had this information for a ton of time.”

Wixted asked whether they have had a spill or problem.

Weiskind said there have not been any serious injuries since she’s been at the facility for about two years, and she couldn’t recall any spills in recent times.

“We have very highly regimented programs that encompass not only our laboratory safety, but all OSHA and … EPA programs up there for this reason,” Weiskind said. “Everything is really managed with really good rigor and control at that site.”

She continued, “Because we’re cognizant of the neighborhood in which we’re in, and whether it was there or any location, right, we want to do all of the right things for our employees, our communities, our neighborhoods — everything.”

The Board of Selectmen continued this request first to its July 18 meeting and then until its Aug. 15 meeting.

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