From: Lisa Rathke, Associated Press
Published April 13, 2006 12:00 AM

Maple Sugar Maker Uses Soybean Fuel to Produce Syrup

CABOT, Vt. — For maple sugar maker Glenn Goodrich, innovation is nothing new.


Always looking to knock a few hours off his work day, Goodrich once patented a device that cuts the boiling time of sap in half. About five years ago, he switched from burning wood to using oil to save time and strenuous labor.


Now, Goodrich is doing his part to test another innovation -- biofuel. He is using a mixture of petroleum oil and a fuel derived from soybeans to boil sap into syrup and to determine if the biofuel causes any adverse effects. So far, there are none, he said.


Goodrich and the Vermont Biofuels Association, a group working to develop a market in Vermont for fuels such as biodiesel, ethanol and methane, hope to spark the interest of other sugar makers.


"Anything we can do to support U.S. agriculture is a great thing," said Goodrich, the vice president of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. "Nothing against foreign countries, but we need to invest in our own country and not other countries."


Others are also getting into the act. The University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center plans to run its evaporators with part biofuel at the end of this season, said research technician Mark Isselhardt.


The biofuel, derived from soybean and canola, comes from Virginia and the Midwest. Netaka White, head of the biofuels association, said there's growing interest to cultivate soy in Vermont.


A survey showed about 9 percent of the state's 800 maple producers -- 65 sugarers -- are interested in using biofuel, White said.


"We're not trying to encourage people to use oil heat," she said. "We're trying to get those who are using it to consider reducing the amount of petroleum by using biodiesel in their fuel mix."


Sugar makers once used wood to heat their sap to remove the water, raise the sugar content and produce a sweet sticky syrup, but now about a third of Vermont sugar makers are using oil-fired evaporators, Goodrich said.


His evaporator is fueled by 20 percent biofuel and 80 percent petroleum. A higher percentage of biofuel could gel in Vermont's cold climate.


The biofuel that Goodrich gets costs about $1 more a gallon than oil. But funding from the fuel company, Calkins Oil, and an $800 grant from the Vermont Biodiesel Project, which gets funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, covered the difference in price.


"If we can encourage more farmers to start doing this, you'll see a better price," said Dana Calkin, president of Calkins Oil, which plans to make a major investment so it can dispense biofuel in northwestern and central Vermont.


Goodrich and his wife, Ruth, first tapped 25 maple trees in 1979 and boiled the sap outside in a 2-foot-by-2-foot square pan. Now they collect sap from 20,000 trees and use the fuel mixture to boil their sap into syrup in a large sugarhouse.


Goodrich, an engineer and former teacher, patented a device called the Steam Away that captures steam from boiling sap in an evaporator and uses it to heat more sap in another chamber. Two reverse osmosis machines in the basement remove water from the sap before it's boiled, reducing the time needed for boiling.


With the recent innovations: "A ten-hour day is a long boil for us. We're very, very efficient, especially on fuel consumption," he said.


Goodrich has kept records of his experiment to test the efficiency of the biofuel-fired evaporator. The biofuels association plans to turn the experiment into a report that it will share with other maple sugarers.


Source: Associated Press


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