Wisconsin is, of course, a state farmed far and wide for its dairy products. It makes 600 varieties of cheese, from the common cheeses of the working man to the obscure artisan. And that means it’s got a lot of cheese waste. Leave it to the state of cheese to find a way to make that cheese waste a power source.
The plan starts with the waste water left behind from the cheesemaking process. This is actually some pretty awesome stuff, in its own way; it’s full of nutrients and is ideal for growing plants. The problem is, when sprayed directly on plants, the run-off, rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, is great food for nasty algal blooms in rivers and lakes.
The solution? Put it in a tank with some bugs.
Essentially, the design works like this: The wastewater is pumped into a tank with some friendly microbes. These microbes go nuts on the delicious cheese water nutrients, and start pumping out methane and waste heat. The methane can be burned to power homes: 3000 homes, in fact. The waste heat can be channeled to keep the cows warm at a dairy. And, once the microbes are done, they leave behind a sludge that can be used as, you guessed it, fertilizer. Basically, as long as Wisconsin makes cheese, it’ll have a handy power plant and heat for its dairy farms.
What A Friend We Have In Cheeses
The current plant is only at half-capacity right now, but it’s likely to be fully fired up in the near future, especially as energy demands increase in the area. And as other cheese-producing state get a load of the benefits, it’s likely to continue to spread, until we’re all getting our energy from cheese. And what a glorious future that will be!
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.