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Sugarmaker finds sweet spot with wood pellet evaporator

 
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Pellet silo visible behind the sugarhouse
Photo credit: Republic of Vermont

Source: Vermont Business Magazine

The sap is flowing all over Vermont this month and sugarmakers are firing up their evaporators to create that liquid gold, maple syrup. Evaporators have historically been fired with cordwood, or more recently oil or propane. One sugarhouse though has found the sweet spot of convenience and tradition, a wood pellet fired evaporator. Republic of Vermont is a certified organic sugarhouse and treatment-free apiary located in Goshen.

They have over 4,000 taps and until this year, they were firing their evaporator with cords of wood that sugarmaker Ethan West would harvest and process himself every summer, in addition to caring for the bees. With the growing summertime demands of an expanding apiary however, the time and effort he was putting into processing firewood no longer made sense. Plus, it’s just not what he’s best at: “I’m a sugarmaker, not a logger,” West said. “Sure, I can operate a chain saw, but there’s no way I was cutting trees as safely or effectively as the professionals.” He started looking into alternatives.

Buying in firewood from local dealers was one option, but that still seemed a bit cumbersome. Oil and propane weren’t on the table: “I like to support the local forest products industry,” he said. Then he heard about wood pellet fired evaporators being used in Canada. “With Vermont Wood Pellet right down the road in Clarendon, this felt like a no-brainer. We could have all of the convenience of oil, but still run our operation with fuel produced practically next door.”

Wood pellets are small, evenly sized granules of 100% compressed sawdust. They are made from low-grade wood or sawdust from saw mills. They have a very low moisture content that allows them to burn very clean, and because they are small and even in shape they can be fed into automated systems, such as a pellet stove or boiler for a home.

Republic of Vermont was the first sugarhouse to sign up for the rebate on pellet fired evaporators from the Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF). The incentive is a rebate of $200/square foot of evaporator pan and is available for either wood pellet or woodchip fired evaporators. Republic of Vermont installed a 3’x10’ Sirocco by CDL. Their total installed cost was $32,000, and they received a $6,000 rebate from the CEDF.

The pellets from Vermont Wood Pellet are delivered in bulk and stored in a silo outside the sugarhouse. They’re then automatically fed into the evaporator, which has improved their system in two ways: One, they are no longer opening the door to the evaporator to load in firewood which means no cold air is washing in and destabilizing the temperature; and two, the sugarhouse stays cleaner which feels good from a food safety perspective.

Switching to pellets has freed up valuable time in the summer to care for the apiary, as well as has relieved precious storage space. “We’re very satisfied, I would definitely recommend this to other sugarmakers,” said West.

For information on this and other incentives available from the CEDF, visit www.rerc-vt.org(link is external). For a complete list of all wood heat related incentives and rebates available in Vermont, visit http://fpr.vermont.gov/incentives(link is external).