Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

The Use of NY State Cheese Whey as an Energy Feed Stock(ST10463-1)

SUNY Research Foundation


This project originally requested funding at the Demonstration Project level ($400,000), under the title of “Demonstration of a Novel Bio-Reactor for Ethanol Production from Cheese Whey.” The TEP recommended reduced funding of $75,000, to investigate some unanswered questions in the proposal prior to funding a full demonstration project. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is a leading research institution in the field of bio-processing and the production of biofuels. This project, in collaboration with the Central New York Biotechnology Application Center, examined the availability, cost, and usability of residual cheese whey from New York State cheese-making operations for bioenergy and bioproduct applications.

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Project Description

Large-scale cheese manufacturers often dry cheese whey permeate that results from their process and then sell it as a feed supplement. Additionally, drying the permeate is an energy intensive process. Small-scale operations often cannot justify the capital investment required for dryers. Companies that do not recover whey protein dispose of cheese whey via municipal waste treatment, lagoon dumping, farm spreading or anaerobic digestion. This study compared the relative merits of converting cheese whey to ethanol, through pure culture anaerobic fermentation, to converting cheese whey to methane/process heat/electricity through the use of a mixed culture anaerobic digester, including an energy balance. Secondary objectives included comparing cheese whey to other feedstock, including corn and woody biomass, for the production of fuel-grade ethanol. The contractor was also to develop a production cost estimate and computer model for ethanol and one or more other materials that can be produced from cheese whey, using different production scales, as well as cost assumptions for the cost of the cheese whey starting material.


The production of cheese whey results in a considerable waste disposal problem for cheese manufacturers. This project examined the feasibility for New York State's cheese manufacturers to create a bioproduct or biofuel from this waste product.

Project Results

The study concluded that the costs associated with producing ethanol from cheese whey were too high to produce a desired return on investment, due to the complexity of the process, and the necessity for much greater capital expenditures. Economic analysis demonstrated that anaerobic digestion can be a cost effective alternative for a cheese manufacturing facility that transports its cheese whey permeate to a waste treatment facility or for farm spreading.


SUNY Research Foundation
Empire State Plaza Concourse Level Rm 106
Albany, NY 12224

Principle Investigator

John Fieschko

Universities Involved

SUNY College of Environmental Science an


Project Type:

Research Study

Technologies Types:

Indigenous Resources

NYSERDA Contact Information

Scott Larsen


R&D - Mfg Tech & On-Site Pwr

Contract Details

Start Date: 1/11/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST10463-1

Last Updated: 2/11/2014