The Ferris wheel at the Tennessee State Fair will be running on an, uh, alternative energy source this summer.
The fair, which is trying to improve its reputation and draw bigger crowds, plans to use its 12,500 animals’ manure to power the midway this year. A mobile bio oil processor will convert all those cow patties, as well as hay, straw, bedding, corn stover and switchgrass, into 30,000 gallons of bio-diesel oil.
The oil will be mixed with methanol to fuel the midway’s generators throughout the fair, which runs Sept. 11-20.
“We’re turning poop into power,” said Chrysty Fortner, the fair’s marketing director.
The mobile bio oil processor will be the centerpiece of the fair’s environmental initiatives. Fair organizers are planning a green energy expo focused on environmentally sustainable technology and living.
Fortner said she found the mobile bio oil processor when she started looking for items to cut from the Tennessee State Fairgrounds’ budget so she could preserve advertising dollars in a reinvention year that could be the fair’s last at the existing site south of downtown.
She discovered the fairgrounds — which are owned by Metro government and stand to lose more than $1 million this fiscal year — had been paying $29,000 a year to have manure hauled to the landfill.
Looking to do something less wasteful with the waste, Fortner discovered a machine created to convert wood chips left over from timber harvesting into oil.
The mobile bio oil processor, 8 feet wide by 40 feet long, heats materials as high as 900 degrees Fahrenheit to collect gas from it and condense the gas into oil — kind of like moonshine.
“It’s very similar to a still,” said Scott Tumperi, an engineer familiar with the process.
Along with the oil, the mobile bio oil processor produces a granular material called biochar. It can be used as a fertilizer, and Fortner said the fair will give some to any fairgoer who wants it.
Fair board member Alex Joyce said he hopes the machine will make people pay attention to the fair.
“I’m hoping it’ll create buzz, where school teachers will hear about it and encourage their students to go, where environmentalists will hear about it and want to check it out,” Joyce said.