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What’s the Connection between Cheese and Electricity?

Cheese and electricity share a surprising link through the science of fermentation. The process that ages cheese is powered by bacteria, which, like tiny biological batteries, can generate electrical currents. This microbial activity is not just a culinary marvel but hints at potential energy solutions. Intrigued? Consider the possibilities as we examine this electrifying relationship further. What could this mean for our future?

France is one of the world's largest producers and consumers of cheese, but it stands alone when it comes to cheese utility.

A renewable energy company known as Valbio has built a power plant in the French Alps that turns whey, a byproduct of cheese production, into 2.8 million kilowatt hours per year -- enough to provide energy to 1,500 of the 18,000 residents of the town of Albertville.

A power plant in France is using the byproducts of cheese production to create biogas.
A power plant in France is using the byproducts of cheese production to create biogas.

The process is fairly straightforward: Whey from the area's production of Beaufort cheese is mixed with bacteria. The resulting fermentation produces a mix of carbon dioxide and methane gas, which is used to generate power in an engine that heats water to 194 °F (90 °C).

The entire process is meant to keep waste to a minimum; in fact, part of the Beaufort cheesemaking process leaves cream behind, but that is used to make butter, ricotta cheese, and protein powders. In fact, clean mineral water is the only output of the process that is not reused.

The French and their cheese:

  • Approximately 96 percent of all French people eat some kind of cheese, with about half of the population consuming it every day.

  • According to legend, blue (bleu) cheese was invented by a Frenchman who placed his cheese in a cave and forgot about it until months later.

  • France protects all of its cheese through the Appellation d’Origine Protégé (AOP), which ensures that a cheese is made in a certain way and in a particular region.

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    • A power plant in France is using the byproducts of cheese production to create biogas.
      A power plant in France is using the byproducts of cheese production to create biogas.