The French are known for their cheese, and now they’re putting it to work. In Albertville, a small city on the border of France and Italy, their electricity is, in part, supplied by cheese.
The power is electric, but a new biogas production facility uses byproduct of Beaufort cheese, a regional product, to generate the electricity.
Beaufort cheese is produced from the milk of cows that graze in pastures in the Alps of the Haute-Savoie. When the cheese is made, salts, minerals, proteins and whey are the primary byproducts. Whey can be used in other food products, but in an area like Albertville, there’s a lot of extra whey. It can be difficult to get rid of all unneeded whey, but EDF, Albertville’s energy firm, found the solution.
The new facility, now just over two months old, takes the leftover whey and ferments it to produce methane. That gas powers an engine to heat water, generating electricity. This method of biogas production provides 2.8 million kWh per year, which could power a community of 1,500. Though Albertville’s population is around 19,000, being able to provide sustainable energy as part of their power supply is commendable.
The designers of the plan, Valbio, have created about 20 whey-fueled power plants around Europe and Canada. This one in Albertville, however, is their largest so far.
Whey can also be found in the production of Greek yogurt. In the United States, a Fage yogurt plant sends some of their whey to a methane digester, powering their facility.
In terms of energy production using food products, biogas production is not the only way to do so. In New Zealand, yeast from brewing beer can power vehicles. Virginia Tech researchers are looking at the conversion of sugar to hydrogen to produce fuel cells, and United Airlines is producing biofuel from food waste. While a cheese-powered community might sound like an “Only in France” kind of thing, it could become a more widespread solution.