Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Coordinator, Department of Agricultural Resources
DAR’s Laura Maul – Program Coordinator, Technical Assistance - co-wrote this blog post.
March is Massachusetts Maple Month. After the winter Massachusetts has endured this year, we all are looking forward to warmer days! Our Massachusetts maple producers are also hoping for warm days – but nights that remain cold. This temperature dynamic is necessary in order for a maple tree to produce the sap that turns into maple syrup.
Although maple producers have no control over the weather, there are many things they can do – and are doing – to save energy and use clean energy practices to cut fuel costs as well as increase production.
Massachusetts maple producers use various types of fuel sources in the production of maple syrup, primarily wood and heating oil. By implementing technologies such as reverse osmosis (RO) systems, pre-heaters, new evaporator designs and high efficiency arch furnaces, the demand on these fuel sources and their associated greenhouse gas emissions are greatly reduced while syrup production is increased. Complimenting these energy efficiency practices with the installation of a solar PV system to help offset syrup production electrical use results in an environmentally friendly maple sugaring process.
Reverse osmosis machines have been used in maple syrup production since the 1970s. RO units traditionally used in the desalination of salt water proved to be highly effective in the reduction of water in maple sap. By pumping the raw sap under pressure and across membranes before evaporation, the water is separated from the sugar-concentrated sap. This results in huge energy savings during sap evaporation, during which much of the water that is removed is collected and ultimately recycled for cleaning purposes.
Pre-heaters are designed to use the steam coming off of the evaporator to heat the sap before it enters the evaporator. The warmer the sap is before entering the evaporator, the less energy it takes to bring it to the boiling temperature necessary to reduce it. Pre-heaters convert the steam already being produced to heat the sap – thereby increasing production while requiring no increase in energy use. Similarly, new evaporator designs include pre-heaters as well as other technologies to maximize heat transfer, pre-heat fuel oil and air, which results in more efficient combustion – reducing energy demands while increasing production.
Finally, installing a solar PV system and taking advantage of Massachusetts net metering rules allows maple syrup producers to generate clean energy and credit their electric bills year round. And they can use their saved up net metering credits during the maple syrup production season.
Many Massachusetts maple producers were able to implement some of the practices listed here with the assistance of our Massachusetts Farm Energy Program (MFEP), as well as being awarded an Agricultural Energy (Ag-Energy) Grant by the Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR). In FY2011, DAR awarded eight grants to maple producers totaling over $65,000 to implement energy efficiency or renewable energy projects. Here’s a snapshot of the awardees and their projects:
Pazmino Farm, Heath – Reverse Osmosis (RO) equipment
Sunrise Farms, Colrain – Heat Recovery through new Steam Pan capture equipment
South Face Farm, Ashfield – 4.4 kW PV; follows RO equipment installation the year prior
Snowshoe Farm, Worthington – RO Unit and new Heat Recovery Evaporator Pre-Heater
Tessier’s Sugar House, Cummington – New evaporator including high efficiency wood-fired arch furnace and pre-heater
Turner Farms Maple Syrup, South Egremont – New evaporator including high efficiency oil-fired furnace and pre-heater
Cranston Tree Farm, Ashfield – RO equipment
Ioka Valley Farm, Hancock – new evaporator including high efficiency oil-fired furnace and pre-heater
Additionally, the prior year’s DAR energy funding included:
Paul’s Sugarhouse, Williamsburg – new high-efficiency arch furnace and RO equipment
Just-a-Mere Tree Farm, Worthington – RO equipment and gasoline-to-electric remote syrup pump conversions
South Face Farm – RO equipment
By funding these projects the Department looks to meet its goals of helping agricultural operations become more sustainable by improving energy efficiency, facilitating the adoption of clean energy technologies, and reducing environmental impacts.