Cheese Wastewater to Power 3,000 Homes

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Wisconsin is one of the largest producers of cheese and in 2012 manufactured nearly 3 billion pounds, 25% of all the cheese made in the U.S. But surprisingly only about 10% of the milk used in the process ends up in the cheese leaving an abundance of milky wastewater left over from rinsing the processing machinery.

Luckily GreenWhey Energy has put the wastewater to good use by using it to produce energy. The biowaste water treatment plant in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin has a 4 million gallon tank full of microbes and cheese wastewater. The plant currently runs at about half capacity, but the plan is to produce 500,000 gallons of wastewater a day and turn it into methane gas, which will be burned to power 3,000 homes.

Originally cheese wastewater had been used as a fertilizer for crops as it contains whey, milk and nutrients that were thought to be beneficial for the soil. However the runoff is high in phosphorous and nitrogen, which was causing algae blooms in nearby lakes potentially leading to elevated toxins in the water and illness and death in fish. This resulted in stricter Department of National Resources regulations pushing cheese producers to find another way to discard their cheese wastewater.

Luckily GreenWhey Energy has helped lead the way in an innovative approach to putting cheese wastewater to greater use. Tom Ludy, co-founder of GreenWhey Energy is proud that he has helped protect the environment as testing shows that they are keeping about "1,000 pounds of phosphorus from getting into rivers and lakes each day".

GreenWhey Energy currently works with seven companies that supply thousands of gallons of wastewater every day which enter via truck or pipeline. Wastewater is then driven into five different holding tanks where it is then moved into a larger equalization tank where additives are mixed in to create beneficial pH levels. The water is then digested, turned into methane gas, and pumped into two huge engines where electricity is created. It also produces beneficial byproducts of water, bio-solids that can be used as fertilizer, and heat that can be used to supply the hot water needs of dairy plants in the area.

GreenWhey Energy has built a smart and low maintenance project that only needs about 12 full-time workers. "The whole process stands on its own two feet," comments Eric Ludy, who is one of the six plant operators. GreenWhey Energy have definitely stuck to their mission statement of helping to make Wisconsin's dairy industry stronger, smarter, and ready to face the challenges of the 21st Century.

The original post can be found here.