Cheese: More Than Just a Tasty Treat
Cheese is glorious.
Have it on a platter with biscuits, nibbles and fruits. Melt the cheese in a toasted sandwich or under the grill. Sprinkle a generous covering over pizza, pasta or nachos. However you have it, cheese is unrivalled.
But did you know that cheese can conduct electricity?
Well, in a way… or should we say whey?
The cheese itself won’t power your home. However, there are powerplants utilising byproducts to create biogas that provides electricity for thousands of homes.
How Food Conducts Electricity
Now, before you start stocking up on blocks of cheese to turn into batteries, not all food is a great conductor.
The best food batteries are the ones containing high amounts of superconductive ions like potassium, calcium or sodium.
These chemicals are often found in electrolytes, an ionic solution containing both positive and negative charges. Opposite charges are necessary so an object can act as an ionic conductor, including liquids and solids.
Electrolytes are found in all living things, although some vegetables like potatoes are a stronger ionic conductor than softer fruits like a tomato. The uniform structure of potatoes and high amounts of potassium makes it a perfect battery, although it won’t ever charge your phone.
So, back to cheese. Although some cheeses will be a better conductor than others, it’s not actually the finished product used to generate power.
It’s the whey, a liquid byproduct created during the manufacturing process.
No Way, Cheese as an Energy Source? Yes Whey!
The best case study for cheese as an energy source can be found in the Savoie region of the French Alps.
Albertville, home to the 1992 Winter Olympics, is also home to Valbio, a manufacturer of Beaufort cheese.
Beaufort is a firm, yet smooth and creamy cheese, that’s perfect for fondue or paired with white wine and fish.
However, a large amount of waste is created during the manufacturing process. Much of this comes out in a product called whey, a watery liquid containing proteins and milk sugars.
Often the whey is just dumped. And with far more whey created than cheese, there’s a lot of leftovers to deal with. Valbio wanted to change that.
As a result, they constructed a small scale powerplant. Their Beaufort whey is converted into biogas that produces more than 3,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That’s enough power for 1500 homes in the region. It also means less than one per cent of materials are wasted in cheese making.
Bacteria + Whey = Methane Power
Whey is arguably the starting point, and energy is the end. But how do we get there? Easy.
Bacteria added to the whey digests the sugars found inside the liquid. This fermentation process produces methane, a type of biogas used across the globe in powerplants, including Australia.
The naturally produced biofuel is then fed through a machine that heats water to just below boiling point, at about 90 degrees. It’s this final step that produces energy and electricity for thousands of French homes.
Using cheese as a power source isn’t too much of a niche move, either.
In 2008, two of Kraft’s New York based factories began turning whey into biogas so they could replace the energy used in the cheese making process. Valbio also has factories back home in Quebec, Canada, utilising biogas.
So there you have it, how gouda is cheese!
Plus, when you’re next munching away on a cheese platter with friends, you can bring up this cheesy fun fact for all to enjoy.