Stereotypes run amok in Savoie, France.
Truly, is there anything cheese cannot do? The Telegraph reports that a power plant in the southeastern French town of Albertville is now converting the delicious, creamy stuff into electricity. The station in the Savoie region uses the byproduct of the local Beaufort cheese to power its biogas plant and turn the picturesque French Alps into an even more potent fantasy land.
The power plant, which opened in October, works like this: The skimmed whey created during the Beaufort-making process is added to a mix of bacteria. These little critters work through natural fermentation to convert the material into the mixture of methane and carbon dioxide commonly called biogas. The biogas is then heated and the steam powers turbines which, in turn, create electricity.
“Whey is our fuel,” said François Decker of Valbio, the company that designed and built the cheesy station. “It’s quite simply the same as the ingredient in natural yogurt.”
The plant will produce about 2.8 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, which Valbio says is enough energy to power a community of about 1,500. (Note that Albertville, most famous for hosting the 1992 Winter Olympics, is home to about 19,000 people.) The energy will be sold to the French utility company EDF, one of the world’s largest electricity providers.
Lest you think any Savoie Beaufort is going to waste: Cream, the other byproduct in the food’s production, is also reused, transformed into ricotta and serac cheese, butter, and protein powder.
This is not Valbio’s first trip to the cheese-and-biogas rodeo. The firm has worked with a number of small French communities, including a frommage-making abbey, as well as producers in Canada, to create their own cheese plants.