11 May A better whey? Researcher wants to convert cheese byproduct into eco-friendly plastic
Using fermentation, the Center for Dairy Research wants to convert whey into chemicals used to make plastics, other consumer products.
In many ways, the basic steps for making cheese haven’t changed for hundreds of years. You need milk, an enzyme to solidify it and a process to separate the curds from the liquid that’s left. That liquid is called whey.
But as the scale of cheese making has gotten bigger, dealing with the leftover whey has become more of a problem.
“When you take 100 pounds of milk, you end up with about 10 pounds of cheese, and the rest is whey,” said Pete Kondrup, general manager of the Westby Cooperative Creamery. “It’s a big part of what is left over when you make cheese.”
The largest cheese plants in the state are producing several million pounds of whey every day. Many of them have invested millions of dollars into systems for processing the cloudy, yellowish liquid into secondary products. Producers that can’t afford these expensive systems are mostly breaking even or even spending money to manage their whey.
But one Wisconsin researcher wonders if this waste product could help the dairy industry not only feed the world, but also save it from continuing to rely on fossil fuels.