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Hybrid cars, electric cars and now cheesy cars

September 29, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • Researchers at Utah State University powered this dragster with a biofuel made from yeast and cheese waste.
Researchers at Utah State University powered this dragster with a biofuel… (Utah State University )

A team of researchers at Utah State University has created a biodiesel fuel out of the watery waste of mass-produced cheese. 

There are two reasons this fuel, which can be substituted for regular diesel, is cool. First, it creates a use for the millions of gallons of liquid cheese waste produced by the industrial cheese industry each day.

It also produces a sweet exhaust that smells like fresh-baked bread.

"The smell is fun, especially when the engine is warm," said Mike Morgan, a Utah State biochemistry undergrad who recently drove a dragster that runs on the fuel.

To make the fuel -- called yeast biofuel -- the scientists start by putting microbes (yeast) into the watery yellow liquid left over when industrial cheese makers make cheese.

The liquid is mostly sugar lactose, since the cheesemakers already pulled the fats and proteins out to make the cheese.

The microbes convert the sugar into oil in a process similar to how humans convert the sugar from candy bars into fat.

However, the microbes are more efficient at turning sugars into fats than we are, said Lance Seefeldt, a Utah State biochemistry professor who led the project.

The scientists then pull the lipids (fats) out of the pasty microbe concotion and turn that into biofuel.

Simple!

The good news is there is a lot of cheese waste out there. Seefeldt said just one cheese plant can make as much as 1 million gallons of liquid cheese waste a day.

From that, he estimates his microbes could make 66,000 gallons of fuel.

And if you're wondering if you will be filling up with sweet-smelling yeast fuel anytime soon the answer is, maybe. Seelfeldt said he thinks a company could bring this product to market in five years. 

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