Holy cow! Energy created from sculpted butter to biodiesel

By Melinda Frank

Staff Writer

A butter sculpture at the 2012 Ohio State Fair celebrates the city of Columbus’ 200th birthday. Later, the sculpture will be used to create MVNU biodiesel.
Photos courtesy of the Ohio State Fair

The thought of a 1,000- pound cow living on campus might be intimidating. However, this cow is not here to destroy the MVNU grounds—just the opposite, in fact. If you have ever visited the Ohio State Fair, you might have visited the famous butter cow sculptures. For the past three years, the butter cow has been donated to MVNU for a unique recycling program.

But what is this cow used for? to butter toast? Contrary to rumors around campus, the butter cow is not consumed in the cafeteria.

“We do not eat it,” food service director Austin Swallow said. “We abide by every health law!”

Instead, the cow is used to produce biodiesel. The biodiesel heats the campus greenhouse and powers the campus maintenance equip-

ment, including the tractors and lawnmowers. Biodiesel is more cost-effective than the petroleum-based diesel fuel these machines require.

Typically there is more than one butter sculpture featured at the fair; this means more biodiesel for MVNU. More butter means more money, since there is a savings of $2 per gallon of biodiesel pro- duced. But even though the cow is large, the percentage of usable material is surprisingly small.

“When our crews started using it, they found only about 10 percent of the cow was usable to create the biodiesel,” facilities service assistant Cindy Burgett said.

Unfortunately, this year the facilities services department was unable to use the cow because of the materials found inside. When constructing the cow, the artists left some sur- prises.

“Whatever materials they were using, they just threw them in there,” Burgett said. “Talk about playing with your food! It isn’t anything anybody would want to eat.” This year the crew found chicken wire, wood and rubber gloves in the sculpture. Since it was unusable, the butter material was given to a recycling plant.

To continue producing fuel, the crew is using cooking oil to replace the cow. While the biodiesel has always been made with a blend of used oil and the leftover butter remnants, this year the oil donations have multiplied.

“We get a lot from the 586 Grill, cafeteria, the Village Inn in Gambier, Kenyon College and a fair food vendor,” Burgett said. The campus cafe- teria donates about 350 gallons of oil each week.

“It’s cool what they are doing and I am glad to partici- pate,” Swallow said.

A unique partnership between the Ohio State Fair and MVNU is not the only unusual aspect of this endeav- or. The smell is distinctive as well.

“The lawnmower guys claim that it does smell a little like French fries when they run the mower,” laughed Burgett.

That smell is a result of the savings that this process brings MVNU. Recycling is not only good for the environment, but good for the University’s budget as well.

“It’s a very good use of material that would otherwise be thrown away–to recycle it into usable fuel,” Burgett said.

And that is how a 1,000- pound cow helps the University to increase cost effectiveness.

Production of biodiesel helps contribute to the mainte- nance of the campus grounds in a cost-effective way, while giving MVNU a unique story to tell.