Food waste left over from cheese processing could soon be as much of a money-spinner as the finished product itself under a new scheme being trialled in the US.
The Fairview Swiss cheese plant in Pennsylvania, owned by John Koller & Son, will soon be powered partially from biogas made from food waste like whey, according to the Pennsylvania's agriculture departmant.
As processors continue to face rising commodity and energy costs, a growing number of manufacturers are looking to alternative energy sources to drive greater cost efficiency in their operations and meet targets to cut carbon emissions.
Through the construction of an anaerobic digester, the plant will use its own whey supply, along with atter from confectionery group Joy Cone, for production of 40m cubic feet worth of biogas a year, the agriculture department said.
This will be equivalent to 28m cubic feet of natural gas.
The biogas, through use of the plant's boiler, will produce steam and electricity to fuel cheese processing at the site, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
Besides offering potential energy benefits, all waste water from processing will be sent to a treatment facility, where solids can be removed to discharge clean water for reuse.
Pennsylvania's agriculture secretary Dennis Wolff said the move reflected the importance of ensuring a stable and environmentally friendly energy source for food production, particularly for processors in the US.
"This project will not only save the company money on energy bills, it will help decrease overall dependency on foreign oil."
Financing for the $2.2m (€1.5) project came in part from John Koller & Son as well as through local agriculture department's Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund.
The fund is a government initiative to provide low-interest loans to allow manufacturers to acquire new or used processing apparatus to improve
Further financing was provided through grants from state and federal agencies.
However, it is not just US-based food and beverage manufacturers working to adopt alternative energy sources in their operations.
In August, McCain Foods announced it was installing three, 80-metre high wind turbines at its Whittlesey French fry plant in the UK, a move expected to lower energy bills at the site by up to 60 per cent.
Similarly, in May, Australia-based brewer Foster's announced it had received government funding to make use of a microbial fuel cell at one of its production plants that can generate energy from waste water.