This French Power Plant Runs on Cheese

Coyau via Wikimedia Commons
Coyau via Wikimedia Commons / Coyau via Wikimedia Commons

If anyone can find a way to convert cheese into an energy source, it would be the French. A new power station located in the French Alps is using the whey left over from making Beaufort cheese to generate electricity.

After completing the initial steps required to make Beaufort cheese, cheesemakers are left with the byproducts of whey and cream. The cream can be used to make butter, protein powder, or ricotta cheese, but finding a practical application for the watery remains known as whey can be a bit trickier. In order to transform this product into a source of power, the plant adds bacteria that converts the whey into a biogas consisting of methane and carbon dioxide. This occurs through a natural fermentation process, similar to how methane is produced in cows’ stomachs. This gas then goes through an engine that heats water close to boiling and generates hydroelectricity.

The idea may sound far-fetched, but similar cheese-powered plants have been built in the past. A decade ago, the Canadian renewable energy company Valbio constructed its prototype station next to an abbey of cheesemaking monks for this very purpose. It’s estimated that 20 more small-scale plants of this variety have been built since, but this new location in Savoie will be one of the largest. The power station will be able to generate enough electricity per year to support a community of 1500—while that’s significantly less than the plant’s home town of Albertville’s population of about 18,000, it’s still a big step towards delicious sustainability.

[h/t: The Telegraph]