Giant butter sculpture to power a farm for three days
How a 1,000-pound butter sculpture became an alternative power source for an entire farm.
Tue, Jan 17 2012 at 5:29 PM
BUTTER BUS: An example of one of the giant butter sculptures on display at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in 2008. (Photo: pwbaker/Flickr)
What do you do with 1,000 pounds of excess butter? Apparently, first you turn it into a giant work of art, then you use it to power your farm for three days, reports NPR.
Giant butter sculptures are a fixture at the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show, and this year's star attraction is a 1,000-pound depiction of a young boy leading his prize-winning calf through a county fair (see pictures of the buttery marvel here). After the show is over, one lucky Juniata County farmer plans to break it down and use the energy to power his house and farm.
It's certainly an unexpected alternative energy source. But how does it work?
First the giant buttery concoction gets unceremoniously dumped into an equally giant manure pit. Far from a tragic end, this will help to transform the butter into gas. Microorganisms present within the manure-butter mixture, warmed by a heated methane digester, do all the work as they feast on the fatty mass.
"Those microorganisms can break those fat molecules apart into the less complex molecules," explained Glenn Cauffman, manager of Penn State University's Farm Operations. "Then further take that to produce a gas called methane, which burns readily in an engine, and can be converted into ... electricity."
"Those organisms at a hundred degrees, are working hard," he added. "They're trying to live. They're trying to reproduce. They're trying to eat food, be happy, make more bacterial."
The process will probably take just less than a month before the mixture is completely broken down into methane. At that point, all that's needed is to hook up a generator. The electricity produced should be enough to power one man's farm for three days.
Steve Reinford, the lucky farmer who gets the benefit of the power, is no stranger to this kind of alternative energy. The resourceful farmer said he usually relies on fuel from a nearby Walmart, which allows him to take leftover food waste that's gone bad for his methane digester. Often he creates so much energy that he's able to sell much of it back to the grid.
The original artistic vision of the original butter sculpture will not be lost on the grateful Reinfold, though. He plans to preserve its memory by taking plenty of before and after pictures.
The entire endeavor may not appeal to everyone. Envious Norwegians currently facing a butter shortage and subsequent illegal butter-smuggling crisis might prefer Reinford ship a little over to them instead. Though perhaps they'll at least sleep better at night knowing the precious commodity wasn't put to waste.
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