Turning Cheese Whey into a Renewable Fuel

By  | 

In this old cheese factory outside Stratford, Joe Van Groll has come up with a way to turn cheese whey permeate, a byproduct of the cheese making process, into liquid gold...or more specifically, ethanol.

"The formula's been in the works for about eight years, and we bought this plant three years ago to test out the formula, and now we're ready to go full-scale production with it," says Van Groll.

The process starts with whey permeate. Van Groll mixes it with a special yeast recipe he's keeping under wraps. It travels through a few vats, where the yeast multiplies, then moves into a fermenter.

This yellow liquid is the result. It's then seperated into yeast and ethanol.

Van Groll will get the cheese whey from local dairies. He hopes to produce 6 to 7 million gallons of ethanol a year.

"If you have 100 gallons of cheese whey, typical cheese whey permeate coming out of a plant, you'll get about 10 gallons of pure ethanol," Van Groll says.

But Van Groll wants to keep his operation small. For now, he and one other employee will run the plant, and he doesn't plan on patenting his secret formula

He's confident it'll help -- at least a little -- in coming up with other fuel sources.

"[It's a ] small drop in the bucket, but it's a start that this renewable fuel will take the place of foreign oil," says Van Groll.

In the future, Van Groll wants to try turning other waste products into ethanol. He says it can be done with almost any sugar or starch byproduct.