UVM maple tap redesign helps sugar makers

When warmer, sunnier days usher in maple syrup season next spring, a new design of the maple tap means a possible increase of the syrup harvest for producers throughout the maple belt.Director of UVM’s Proctor Maple Research Center Dr. Timothy Perkins said the idea to incorporate a check valve into the tap materialized in October 2007 as he was working to find ways to increase sap yields.Perkins said that ordinary taps have a relatively simple design — a hollow portion is put into the tree where the sap flows out of the tap into plastic tubing that carries it to a storage tank.This new tap he said prevents bacterial contamination and back flow of sap.The result? The tap produces 50 to 90 percent more sap using the same hole, Perkins said.Perkins said that prototypes were tested beginning in spring 2008. After he and his colleagues finalized the check valve system, they modified existing spouts and tried them in the field.The spouts modified were adapter-type  spouts, Perkins said, meaning that the tap is separable from a “stubby end” that attaches to the plastic tubing.”We found that it did, in fact, produce more sap than the standard valve,” he said. “At that point UVM decided to patent it.”That’s the realm of Todd Keiller, director of the University’s Office of Technology Transfer.”If someone like Tim comes forth with a new idea, they have a duty as an employee to disclose it to the university,” Keiller said.According to Keiller, a local company — Leader Evaporator of Swanton — was chosen to develop and market the tap.The technology was licensed to them, Keiller said. “They pay us for each tap sold, and we share whatever we make with the inventor, in this case Tim Perkins.”So far, Leader Evaporator has more than one million of the taps on order, company president Gary Audette said.There is one caveat. Unlike traditional taps, the new tap — like all “adapter-type” spouts — must be replaced each season, Perkins said.”In order to get the best production you have to have a clean interface,” he said. “UVM Extension and the Vermont Department of Agriculture are looking into recycling the spouts.”Disposability aside, the tap has the maple industry abuzz with excitement.”If this does work as well as we think,” Audette said, ” it could make a huge difference to the entire North American maple syrup industry.”