Good Life

Butter sculpture to meet end in State College

They promise they won’t eat it — not that they’d want to anyway — but they will run an engine off it. The crown jewel of this year’s Pennsylvania Farm Show — a 1,000-pound butter sculpture of a cow and three children boarding a school bus — will be hauled to State College after the event.

But the figurines won’t stand here for long.

The sculpture will be chopped into pieces, melted and turned into biodiesel by students at State College Area High School and Penn State — another project by the local school and university aimed at teaching kids how to turn waste into alternative fuels. “The key thing about these projects here is that the generation of people in school now is the generation that is going to have to find the solution to the energy crisis,” said Glen Cauffman, manager of farms and facilities at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Science.

This year’s butter masterpiece by Jim Victor, of Conshohocken, is the largest created in the 17 years the butter sculptures have been on display at the Farm Show, said Jessica Pomraning, public relations manager of the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association, a sponsors of the sculptures.

In the past, the butter had been thrown away.

“Rather than just discarding it,” she said, the association began donating it for alternative fuel. Last year’s Ben Franklin and Liberty Bell sculpture went to Philadelphia Fry-O-Diesel, Inc., which turned it into biodiesel.

State High and Penn State will take a similar approach. Students will also test the product to study the butter fuel’s effects on engines and see how clean it burns. Turning waste products into biodiesel is not new for Penn State or State High. Both have built successful systems to turn used cooking oil into biodiesel to power vehicles.

But Paul Heasley, a State High agriculture science teacher, said the butter sculpture will be slightly more complicated than the fryer project. “Because it is a solid, we will have to heat it and extract some of the moisture that is in it,” Heasley said. “And then we will be able to process it. It’s a little bit more complex.”

But he’s confident his students will learn how to make the conversion.

“I think we have a pretty good group that has a great deal of understanding because they have (made biodiesel) for quite a while,” he said.

Heasley is in the process of meeting with school administrators to figure out how best to use the biodiesel the students have already been making. The biodiesel made from cooking oil already powers the Career and Technical Center’s gator, an all-terrain vehicle.

By 2006, Penn State had converted all of its regular diesel-powered equipment to run on B20 — 20 percent biodiesel. “Petroleum is becoming harder to get out of the ground and is going to continue to get more expensive,” Cauffman said. “We have to find some alternative, and biodiesel is just one of many.”

Dena Pauling can be reached at 231-4619.