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Maple sugaring becoming more high-tech

By: Eric Fisher

WILLIAMSBURG, Mass. (WGGB) — Maple sugaring is one of the oldest traditions in New England. But technology is starting to take over the maple industry.

On Route 9 in Williamsburg, Paul’s Sugarhouse has produced syrup and other maple goods for years. It started out with old evaporators and metal pails. Now Paul Zononi’s 4,000 trees are connected by vacuum tube systems. And the Federal government is helping him make more improvements this year.

“The sap comes in from the thanks outside, and goes through a high pressure pump that feeds it through a membrane,” explains Zononi, as he excitedly gives a science lesson in ‘reverse-osmosis’ technology.

A reverse-osmosis pump has set up shop, where an old pump 4 times the size used to sit. Reverse-osmosis refers to a pump that feeds liquid through a very fine filter. So small that it can sort out different molecules.

“The water molecules can pass through, but sugar molecules can’t,” says Zononi.

In the end, the sap’s sugar content goes from 2.5 percent, to 8 percent. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but it makes a huge difference in terms of energy efficiency.

“We can do 3000 gallons in about seven hours with this machine, compared to 30 hours conventionally,” explains Zononi.

Not only does that mean that syrup can be made more quickly, but less wood is needed to boil the product. The pump also uses less electricity than the old pump, cutting the electrical bill in half.

“The new, concentrated sap goes into a conventional evaporator to be boiled,” says Zononi. “We’re saving about two thirds on wood consumption, which is several hundred dollars.”

It also means less aches and pains for Zononi’s back, because much less time is needed to cut down and split wood. In fact, there are more than a dozen extra piles left over this year due to the new technology.

Paul’s Sugarhouse received a federal grant worth $29.825 to purchase energy-efficient equipment. The reverse-osmosis machine costs $13,500. The rest will go toward a new gasification system, which will get rid of smoke emissions from the evaporator (don’t worry, the trademark steam will still rise from the Sugarhouse roof).

“By purchasing a reverse-osmosis you can tap more trees and boil more syrup with a small evaporator,” says Zononi. “It’s a big advantage for small and mid-sized maple producers.”

In the end, the quaint New England-style Sugarhouse will be the model of efficiency.

Visitors can stop by Paul’s Sugarhouse between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekends to view the new equipment, learn about the sugaring process, get samples of maple cream and purchase maple products. They’re also open during the week when sap is running. If there’s steam rising from the roof, they’re usually open.



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