Cheesemaker may produce ethanol from whey
Liz Welter reports on Nasonville Dairy in the Marshfield News-Herald:
Nasonville Dairy, one of the area’s largest cheese producers, might build a facility to make an alternative to conventional gasoline.
The alternative is ethanol made from a byproduct of the cheesemaking process — cheese permeate.
Currently, most gasoline sold at the pump already contains some ethanol. But the availability of E85 gasoline — 85 percent ethanol — is growing, as is the number of vehicles being produced that are powered by either E85 or gasoline. The Store, a gas station and convenience store now being built on North Lincoln Avenue in Marshfield, would be the first in the city to sell E85.
Nasonville Dairy recently completed participating in the development of new technology to convert the cheese permeate into ethanol, and it might expand its own facilities to include ethanol production.
“We know that this process works (producing ethanol from cheese permeate), but can it be done economically?” said Ken Heiman, co-owner of the dairy.
Currently, Nasonville Dairy sells the cheese permeate to a company that makes dried lactose from it.
“If the price of ethanol stays about the same, this would be feasible,” Heiman said. “But can we treat the waste water adequately for it to be released into the water supply and still be economical? And then there are all the permits to do.”
Although the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is touting the prospects of refining cheese permeate to produce ethanol, Heiman said more feasibility studies are needed.
“It will cost a number of millions to do this,” he said. “I still have feasibility studies coming from a number of people. This is what I would call a chance venture. … If the price of ethanol went down, this wouldn’t be good.”
There are four similar facilities in Europe and one each in Minnesota and California.
“It’s just in its infancy in Wisconsin,” DATCP spokesperson Robin Engle said. “The challenge now is to take it to the marketplace.”
The new state Energy Efficiency and Renewables Act supports the development of alternative energy production. Engle said ethanol is just one of the pieces of the alternative energy puzzle.
“This requires a comprehensive look at what the possibilities are. With the news (Monday) that oil is expected to go over $76 a barrel and talk of $3 (a gallon) gas by the summer, some analysts say if there is another bad hurricane season, this could double.”