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Maple Syrup is Focus of Sustainability and Bioenergy Project Work

April 2017 –  

By Tom Hammett

This semester the learning group projects in Society, Sustainable Biomaterials and Bioenergy (SBIO 3454) will all focus on issues and opportunities in bioenergy for the maple syrup industry. It all started when Tom decided testing small stoves with various types of biofuels would be a good example for his class. The goal is to test the efficiency of a variety of stoves and fuels so that recommendations can be made to small producers in the region.

While maple syrup production is quite small in Virginia when compared to Vermont and New York state, there are several small producers and many feel there is an opportunity for expansion. One of the key challenges for small and new producers is facilitating the boiling sap and fuels. Since the beginning of the project, this work has attracted attention. As a result of this work, Tom has put together a proposal for a grant to develop the industry in the region.

To get a feel for the industry and the opportunities for bioenergy, a class field trip was conducted in late February to Highland County, an isolated and higher altitude area where many of the Virginia producers work. Several of the students attended the annual Highland County Maple Festival during March.

During the course the students design, build and test stoves, learn about a variety of biofuels, and report on their findings. Beyond this first-hand experiential learning, the students will also benefit from the exercise, and will communicate their results through oral and written reports, and articles to be published by the West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers Association.

A related opportunity resulted from the February class field trip to Highland County. The department was invited by our hosts to collaborate on a proposal for USDA funding. The funded project will conduct research and outreach designed to seek ways to expand maple syrup production in Virginia.

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