Which cheese produces more electricity: Brie or Beaufort?

Once they're done making cheese, French producers are contributing a key component to producing alternative energy. 

Sue Pischke/Herald-Times Reporter/AP/File
Graham Achter from St. Cloud, Wis., carrying aged cheddar cheese as he helps his mom buy cheese inside at a store.

French cheesemakers, long known for their versatility, have now come up with a new dish: electricity.

A new power plant in Albertville, a town in the French Alps, is the latest to use the leftover whey from the Beaufort cheese-making process to create biogas through anaerobic digestion, as an alternative to fossil fuels.

“Whey is our fuel,” said François Decker, director of operations at Valbio, a Canadian company that built the 800-square-meter power plant in southeastern France, reports The Telegraph. The plant generates enough electricity for 1,500 people, says the British newspaper.

When milk is turned into cheese, it produces whey, a liquid that cheese makers either sell to plants that transform it into whey powder used in cheese making, or give to farms to use as a nutritional additive in feed for their animals or to fertilize their lands, explains Valbio on its website.

But the price of whey fluctuates, explains Valbio, and it costs money to transport it.

“Anaerobic digestion offers an interesting alternative,” says the company, as it converts a product cheesemakers have to get rid of into one that can be reused to create the energy to power their operations.

Anaerobic digestion is a natural biological process that transforms organic matter such as food waste into biogas, a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide, and other gases. At the French plant, whey is placed in a tank with bacteria where it undergoes a natural fermentation process, much like the process that happens in cows’ stomachs, to produce methane and other gases.

The gas, which is functionally identical to the gas typically extracted with oil and coal, is then used in an engine that heats water to 90 degrees Celsius and generates electricity. The French plant will produce about 2.8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

Valbio has built about 20 small biogas plants in France, other European countries, and in Canada. It is planning to build others in Australia, Italy, Brazil, and Uruguay, reports the Telegraph.

In the US, the federal government aims to increase the number of biogas plants in the country, of which it now counts 2,000, to help reduce emissions of methane, the second most prevalent greenhouse gas. Methane is emitted from the anaerobic digestion of landfill, from natural gas and petroleum production, and from agricultural waste.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Which cheese produces more electricity: Brie or Beaufort?
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2015/1221/Which-cheese-produces-more-electricity-Brie-or-Beaufort
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe