Supercharged sugaring method looks to change maple industry

Published: Apr. 4, 2018 at 10:11 AM EDT
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As some sugarmakers expand, they're trading the traditional wood fire for industrial machines.

Reverse osmosis is a technology some sugar-makers have used for decades. It brings up the sugar content in sap quicker, which means they're not boiling the sap for as long. But now there’s a supercharged version of that called high-brix reverse osmosis.

That’s a method just added at Goodrich's Maple Farm. For Glenn and Ruth Goodrich, things are a bit different than when they first started making maple syrup in the 1970s.

"We started with 25 trees in our backyard and made six gallons of maple syrup that season," Glenn said.

Now, he says they’re making syrup from 75,000 trees. And they’re not stopping there.

"It’s an addiction, it really is," he said.

The Goodriches have a sugarhouse in Cabot and a newly built warehouse in Eden. The warehouse was built with the idea of tapping 100,000 trees by 2019 and possibly 200,000 a few years after.

"It doesn’t look like a sugarhouse, but it's very functional, very easy to clean," Ruth said. "It's wonderfully easy to heat and work in; it's all wide open. I have learned you can never build a sugarhouse that's big enough."

It houses a new evaporator, multiple tanks and the heart of the operation-- the high-brix reverse osmosis machine.

"This system can actually go up to 35 percent, 35-40-percent in sugar concentration, which means it squeezes even more water out, which means slightly less sap to process, as well," said John Ho, an energy consultant with Efficiency Vermont.

The green outcome has the support of the Efficiency Vermont team. But that's not specifically why Glenn says he took the plunge. His grandfather taught him a quality product comes first.

"We want the maple syrup we make here to taste just like the maple syrup we made last year at Cabot or 40 years ago," Glenn said.

The technology is still relatively new and isn't for everyone. Glenn says the machine is worth about $200,000. With the machine, the warehouse and all new equipment, he’s shelled out several hundred thousand dollars.

Glenn says he hopes to get his money back in four years and then eventually save money by using less oil.

"For me to go four years without a paycheck, really, that's a hard thing for me to do," he said.

But he says it gives him a challenge and makes a product they're proud of.

"This is definitely a show-quality maple syrup, definitely," Ruth said. "This is going to go in the maple festival."

Meters were put on the Goodriches' machine so Efficiency Vermont can see how much money and energy they'll save over time.

Karen Glitman, the director of Efficiency Vermont, says the Goodriches have done the math to see how much they'll save in the end by not using as much oil, and they're hoping the data from the meters matches up.

"Part of this is testing it out, finding this new technology," said Glitman. "How we can make this quintessential Vermont industry more efficient and bring more value."

Glitman says the machine is better for larger operations that are expanding or getting new equipment.