The Planet

In France Even the Power Plants Run on Cheese

by Rafi Schwartz

December 28, 2015
Image via (cc) Flickr user chiotsrun

In the Savoie region of France, residents in the small city of Albertville see cheese as more than a dietary staple. It’s what keeps the lights on. There, reports Smithsonian, the electrical potential of cheese—specifically, a nice piece of Beaufort—has been harnessed by a newly opened local power plant and is used to provide power to hundreds of homes.

“No way,” you say?

Yes whey. 

Whey, the liquid byproduct of cheese production, naturally produces methane gas as it ferments. The Albertville plant, which opened earlier this fall, collects whey from the local Beaufort cheese industry, which mixes it with bacteria in order to kickstart the fermentation process. Once fermentation begins, the biogas expelled from the substance is harvested, and then used to power a generator that kicks out a reported 2.8 million kilowatt-hours annually—enough to power the homes of about 1,500 of Albertville’s nearly 20,000 residents.

Speaking with The Telegraph, François Decker, a representative of Valbio, the company behind the cheesy power plant, explained: “Whey is our fuel. It’s quite simply the same as the ingredient in natural yogurt.”

In fact, yogurt has already been harnessed in a similar fashion to generate electricity. Smithsonian points out that whey from a Fage yogurt plant near Albany, New York, is pumped to a nearby wastewater plant, where it’s converted into power. In fact, while the Albertville plant is among the largest dairy-power facilities on Earth, it’s not the first. Valbio reportedly opened its first cheese-power generators a decade ago, and has gone on to introduce the technology in plants across Europe and Canada, with more planned for the future.

Still, it’s a method for generating electricity that’s only just in its infancy, with wider, large-scale implementation yet to come. In the meantime, the next time you want to scoff at someone for their snooty taste in cheeses, remember: You might just be laughing at the next green-energy revolution.

[via smithsonianmag.com]

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In France Even the Power Plants Run on Cheese