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Today: a Butter Sculpture; Tomorrow: Sustainable Fuel

The New York State Fair’s tribute to dairy farmers will end up in the fuel tanks of a college vehicle fleet.

Nine hundred pounds of butter, sculpted into a tribute to New York state’s dairy farmers and positioned as a centerpiece attraction at the New York State Fair, will end up fueling the vehicle fleet at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF).

College scientists, in collaboration with the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, Inc., and the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, will make the butter into biodiesel at the production facility on the ESF campus.

"Thirty-seven percent of the college's fleet runs on some form of renewable energy, including biodiesel," said ESF President Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr. "Using the butter sculpture is a unique way to fuel the ESF fleet."

This year’s edition, which marks the 40th year for a butter sculpture at the fair, is called Cow Jumping Over the Moon, revisiting the theme for the original butter sculpture in 1969.

After the fair’s 12-day run ends on Labor Day, the butter will be brought to the ESF biodiesel production facility. The first step is to clarify the butter to remove the water and milk proteins.

“This separates out the triglycerides, which will be split in our reactor at ESF—a process known as transesterification—that creates the biodiesel," said Dan Nicholson, a graduate student who works in the biodiesel production facility. "The conversion will take about a week.”

He said it takes about nine pounds of butter to make a gallon of biodiesel, so this year’s 900-pound sculpture should yield around 96 gallons of biodiesel. (If left in stick form, 900 pounds of butter is enough to cover more than six football fields, according to the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, Inc.)

The work is an extension of a project already in place at ESF, in which students collect used fryer oil from dining facilities at neighboring Syracuse University and use it to make biodiesel fuel for the college fleet.

“Dairy farmers are the original environmentalists, recycling nutrients and water on their land, so it makes sense that this annual tribute to them is itself finding new life in fuel, rather than being discarded,“ says Skip Hardie, a second-generation dairy farmer, from Lansing, N.Y. “This is a fitting way to mark the sculpture’s 40th anniversary.”

“As Onondaga County's local recycling agency, OCRRA is thrilled with this innovative project,” said Kristen Lawton, Public Information Officer, with OCRRA. “Turning butter art into fuel for their vehicles is a great demonstration of ESF turning knowledge into practice! What a terrific way to reuse what was a waste in the past."

The butter sculpture is a time-honored tradition of the Fair. Since 1969, it has been the centerpiece of the Dairy Products Building, which houses the Rainbow Milk Bar, the Dairy Princess Booth, special dairy drinks, and an array of dairy products. This year’s version was created by sculptor Jim Victor; his wife, artist and sculptor Marie Pelton; and their son, Matthew, 22, a recent graduate of Elizabethtown College.

Claire B. Dunn | Newswise Science News
Further information:

Further reports about: Biodiesel Butter Sculpture ESF OCRRA milk proteins renewable energy

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