France, a country with a deep and abiding love of cheese, is now home to a waste-to-energy power plant where fromage itself is used as the primary source of electricity-generating fuel.

Okay, technically not cheese but whey, a liquid byproduct of the cheese-making process.

“Whey is our fuel,” François Decker of Valbio, the Quebecois renewable energy company behind said power station, clarifies to the Telegraph. “It’s quite simply the same as the ingredient in natural yoghurt.”

An innovator in the world of dairy-based anaerobic digestion (the conversion of organic waste into methane-rich biogas), Valbio's newest facility is tucked away in the French Alps in the ridiculously scenic town of Albertville. It’s a town best known for two things: hosting the 1992 Winter Olympics and for producing delicious Alpine cheese.

The cheese in question is Beaufort, a creamy and particularly grassy hard yellow cheese made from raw cow’s milk. A more obscure (at least in the United States) cousin of Swiss Gruyère — and similarly excellent for preparing fondue — Beaufort is the best known of several cheeses originating from the ski-resort studded Savoie department of the Rhône-Alpes.

Albertville, FranceAlbertville, France: Europe's epicenter of dairy-based electricity generation. (Photo: dmytrok/flickr)

Like discarded pistachio shells being eyed as a heat source for a speculative eco-city in Turkey, Albertville's whey processing plant-cum-electricity generator is simply tapping into a byproduct of a regionally famous edible export — a byproduct that would otherwise potentially go to waste.

So here’s the whey it works: the Union of Producers of Beaufort-operated facility, known as Savoie Lactée, adds whey to a massive tank along with bacteria. As the whey and bacteria commingle, natural fermentation occurs, releasing a heady brew of methane and carbon dioxide. This resulting biogas powers a steam engine that heats water to 194 degrees Fahrenheit and voila … electricity is produced.

Cream, another byproduct from the production of Beaufort, is used to make butter, ricotta cheese and protein powder.

When all is said and done, the facility, which opened in October, can generate an estimated 2.8 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of cheese-derived electricity — that’s enough to power a town of 1,500 people.

Alas, that’s not quite enough to power Albertville, home to roughly 19,000 residents. Furthermore, the town that generates cheese power doesn’t necessarily rely on it — because that would just be too good. Rather, the electricity generated at Savoie Lactée — amongst the largest cheese-to-energy facilities in the world and one of several already built or in development by Valbio — is sold to French energy behemoth Électricité de France (EDF). Still, it’s fun to think that the streetlights of Albertville are directly kept aglow by a flagship French comestible that tastes absolutely fabulous with white wine.

Via [Popular Mechanics] via [The Telegraph]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.