Lifestyle & Culture

Cheese Economy: Farmers Use Dairy Waste to Make ‘Green Gas’

Beloved Wensleydale Creamery has teamed up with a bioenergy plant for a circular economy initiative to ‘turn cheese waste into biogas’.

25.06.2019 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Welcome to Yorkshire
Photo by Welcome to Yorkshire

Here’s an idea: What if creamy Wensleydale cheese were used to feed super bacteria, and the gas produced from these critters was then captured and used to heat hundreds of UK homes a year — turning food waste into energy that could replace fossil fuels?

No, that’s not a plot-line dreamed up by cheese-loving cartoon inventors Wallace and Gromit. It’s a serious collaboration between Iona Capital, the operators of numerous bioenergy plants across Yorkshire in the UK, and Wensleydale Creamery, makers of the famed Wensleydale cheese.

The two organisations have teamed up to turn the offcuts from cheese into ‘biogas’. 4,000 tonnes — equal to 4 million kilograms — of cheese is produced every year by the Creamery, leading to the generation of a significant amount of dairy residue called whey. Iona says it can use the whey as ‘feedstock’ for the specialised anaerobic bacteria that produce biogas.

Leading the project are David Hartley, the managing director of the Wensleydale Creamery, and Mike Dunn, Iona’s co-founder. Speaking to the Guardian, Hartley said the project would bring sustainable environmental and economic benefits to the region. “The whole process of converting local milk to premium cheese and then deriving environmental and economic benefit from the natural by-products is an essential part of our business plan as a proud rural business,” he said.

Dunn added that the plan shows “the real impact of the circular economy” and the “part intelligent investment can play in reducing our carbon emissions”.

This is business as usual for Iona Capital, which currently supplies gas to almost 4,000 homes in North Yorkshire, made from the offcuts of ice cream production. The company believes the use of cheese waste could produce around one million cubic meters of gas, which would heat 800 homes a year. There would be no waste from this process, either, as organic material left after the anaerobic digestion could be used as fertiliser on nearby farmland.

According to the Guardian, the ‘green gas’ process has been used to capture gases that are naturally created when food waste breaks down since the 19th century. It can now be used to directly enter the local gas grid, and even produce bio-fertiliser. Governments around the world, particularly in the UK, are putting on pressure to ensure that food waste is not allowed to sit in landfill, and is instead used to displace fossil fuels for heating or electricity generation.

This is good news for sustainability. Food waste in landfill rots and produces methane gas, which contributes to global warming. If food waste is converted into biogas it can instead be used to replace the use of fossil fuels, reducing the earth’s carbon footprint and level of food waste, whilst also creating a spirit of sustainable farming.

Similar innovations have cropped up in recent years: one company intends to limit the amount of food waste by repurposing it as edible food preservative, and another has been turning it into biodegradable dyes.

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