Western PA Cheese Plant to Tap Own Biogas

State and federal grants help fund food waste-to-gas methane digester.

Methane digesters aren't just for dairy farms and potato processing plants anymore. The Fairview Swiss Cheese Plant in Mercer County, Pa., soon will be partially powered with biogas made from its own cheese whey and cone batter wastes from the nearby Joy Cone Company.

Fairview owner John Koller & Son, Inc., recently broke ground on the renewable energy project. Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Dennis Wolff says the project will "save the company money on energy bills and help decrease overall dependency on foreign oil."

The $2.2 million project involves constructing an anaerobic digester to convert the food wastes into 40 million cubic feet of biogas annually – equivalent to 28 million cubic feet of natural gas. The biogas will feed a boiler to produce steam and electricity for processing milk into cheese. Wastewater from the digester will flow to a treatment facility where the solids will be removed and clean water discharged.

The project is a collaborative effort between the local county government, Fairview Swiss Cheese Plant, Joy Cone Co., and Penn State Cooperative Extension of Mercer County. The group received funding through Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund, the state's Department of Environmental Protection Energy Harvest Grant and USDA's 9006 Renewable Energy Grant.

The Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund is the Ag Department's low-interest loan program where funding can be used to acquire and install new or used machinery and equipment or to upgrade existing machinery and equipment.

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