Ellsworth Dairies

What goes in:

2200 gallons of high-strength water and other by-products

What comes out:

Clean, sustainable energy

Every year during the 11 days of the Minnesota State Fair—and at state fairs across the nation—literally hundreds of tons of cheese curds are consumed. Not many fairgoers give a second thought to the dairies that are the source of the curds, or the process of creating them. But in fact, for each ton of curds made, the dairy generates 2,200 gallons of high-strength water and other by-products, creating a challenge for the dairies.

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery is the source of cheese curds for countless fairs, cheesemakers and other food producers across the country. For years, the byproducts of their operations were utilized as a soil enrichment—but land application is a less-than-perfect solution.

“Using land application to dispose of the byproducts from cheesemaking can potentially hurt streams and wildlife with its runoff. As a result, the Department of Natural Resources is tightening regulations. By up-cycling by-products and waste using anaerobic digestion, you’re doing no harm. Ellsworth has always been a supporter of anaerobic digestion, and specifically, the VIRESCO plant,” said Paul Bauer, CEO of Ellsworth.

Ellsworth’s waste disposal needs include pre-packaged solids, so early in the partnership, VIRESCO added a grinder system to accommodate the creameries’ needs. Expansion to a new plant has also provided another opportunity to collaborate, as the two companies plan together on the best processes to innovate and work together in creating clean energy from cheese waste. “And we plan to keep working together and finding ways to handle waste,” said Bauer. ”When we call VIRESCO with a waste challenge, they ask, ‘What’s the problem?’ Then they send over a truck and take care of it.”

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