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Efficiency in the Sugar House

by JJ Vandette, Planning Manager - Agriculture

With daytime temperatures on the rise and nights still dipping below 32 degrees, sugaring season is starting to ramp up in Vermont. For the next month, more than 1500 sugaring operations across the state will boil incredible volumes of maple sap to produce over one million gallons of delicious syrup.

According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture from 2012, our small state is responsible for more than 44% of the nation’s syrup production. The Boston Globe reported that in 2014, Vermont’s sugarers produced just over 1.3 million of the total 3.17 million gallons of U.S. syrup. Therefore, it’s with good reason that syrup has become a symbol of Vermont.

Vermont maple sugaring operations vary in scale, from the small hobbyist with a few backyard buckets, to the dairy farmer looking to diversify his/her income stream, to the large scale operation that produces tens of thousands of gallons a year. While different in many ways, they all have at least one thing in common – energy.

The Sugaring Process: How Reverse Osmosis Works

Sugaring is an energy intensive process. It takes approximately 43 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and getting from 43 to one requires a lot of fuel. The majority of Vermont maple sugarers use oil or cord wood-fired evaporators to concentrate their sap, and even with an efficient evaporator, this process still requires a lot of energy.

For decades maple sugaring equipment has been evolving to adopt more advanced technologies to optimize the efficiency of sugaring operations. One example of these advancements is a Reverse Osmosis (RO) system. ROs can remove more than 75% of the water from sap prior to boiling, leading to as much as a 75% reduction in energy used by the evaporator to fully transform the sap to syrup. The sap is first pressurized and passed through the RO system, which uses a filter membrane designed to let water molecules (permeate) through, which increases the sugar content of the remaining liquid (concentrate). The concentrate is then moved on to the evaporator to be boiled into maple syrup.

Sugarers began incorporating ROs into their operations in the 1970s to save on fuel costs and time. ROs are now commonplace for the largest maple sugar makers in Vermont. However, for the majority of small and medium-sized operations in the state, installing an RO just isn’t in the budget.

At Efficiency Vermont, we understand the many benefits of RO systems and the energy saving opportunities that still exist for Vermont’s smaller maple sugar makers. In order to expand the use of this efficient technology and reduce the energy intensity of maple operations in Vermont, we will soon be offering technical assistance and a rebate for maple sugar makers who are looking to install an RO for the first time. We’re excited to roll out this new offering to support a fundamental part of Vermont’s economy, culture, and heritage.

4/16/15 Update: 2015 Rebates on qualifying Maple RO installations are now available. Please note: funds are limited and pre-approval is required. View Maple RO rebate requirements and pre-qualification form.

Contact our Customer Support team for more information, or come visit us at the Vermont Maple Festival in St. Albans on April 24, 25 and 26, 2015 to learn more!


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