No whey! Cheese by-product could power fuel cells
Scientists have come up with an alternative fuel source that vegan environmentalists wouldn’t like to use: whey.
Whey is the watery part of milk that remains after it is separated from curds during the process of cheese making. Although already used as an ingredient in several types of cheese and as a popular high protein nutritional supplement, most whey produced in cheese making is thrown away. And since most of the mass of milk – some 70% – used to make cheese consists of whey, a lot of waste is produced, which in turn must be treated before disposal.
Researchers in Greece are working on ways in which that waste could be converted into energy.
Whey is rich in lactose, a sugar which Georgia Antonopoulou, a biochemical engineer at the University of Patras, Greece, says can be consumed by cultures of bacteria contained within a fuel cell in order to generate an electric current. Microbial fuel cells, as they are known, are not a new idea but only in the past few years have they attracted attention as a way of both dealing with raw waste water and generating electricity at the same time.
In the future, the same microbial fuel cell technology could be applied to other food industries as well as domestic sewage as the technique develops and efficiency improves. It is particularly attractive because of its two-pronged benefit of producing energy and disposing of waste.
Click to read the entire article in the Economist.