Pennsylvania

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Butter Today, Energy Tomorrow: How The Farm Show Butter Sculpture Is Turned Into Power

Mary Wilson / witf

The 2013 butter sculpture

It’s that time of year again – the Pennsylvania Farm Show has unveiled the 2013 butter sculpture.

This year’s creation is quite elaborate, as sculptor Jim Victor told witf’s Mary Wilson. “There’s Pennsylvania Christmas trees in there and there’s maple syrup and there’s wine and there’s poultry and there’s you know all the stuff, the hard woods,” he said. “There’s even a bee on the back, there’s a honeycomb around the back of the thing.”

After the show, the thousand-pound sculpture will be converted into electricity. How does that work? StateImpact Pennsylvania explained the process last year: 

Turns out, butter becomes gas through the work of a methane digester. Glenn Cauffman, the manager of Penn State University’s Farm Operations, said the butter will be dumped into a big heated tank where microorganisms will feast on it. “Those microorganisms can break those fat molecules apart into the less complex molecules,” he explained. “Then further take that to produce a gas called methane, which burns readily in an engine, and can be converted into…electricity.”

As long as the farmer keeps the digester hot, the bacteria will do all the work. “Those organisms at a hundred degrees, are working hard,” said Cauffman. “They’re trying to live. They’re trying to reproduce. They’re trying to eat food, be happy, make more bacterial.”

Steve Reinford is the lucky dairy farmer who will take custody of the sculpture. He’ll be the one dumping it into the manure pit, where it will sit for several days, before he grinds it into fuel and feeds it into the digester.

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